ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Starting with her years working as a teacher in Baltimore, Joyce Bates knew she was called to serve others. When she wasn’t in the classroom, Bates worked on several elections. Her passion followed her to the polls when she moved to St. Johns County in the 2000s.
“When I came here, it was just something that I would do,” Bates said. “That I needed to do -- because I like the passion of being able to help people.”
As poll clerk at the Julington Creek Annex, Bates oversees all operations, but her true joy comes from the voters themselves. Vicky Oakes, St. Johns County’s Supervisor of Elections told News4Jax the final number of people who voted early was 93,310. She said that’s a 70% turnout.
“It’s so heartwarming for me to see these voters actually voting, especially the new voters, and we’ve had so many this year,” Bates said. “We’ve had tons of first-time voters.”
That’s a feeling shared by Doris Wiles. Like Bates, Wiles started in the 2000s and is now the clerk at the St. Augustine Beach voting precinct. Before Wiles and her husband, Doug, became proud grandparents, Doug was a representative in the Florida Legislature. Legislative records online show he represented District 20, which includes parts of Clay, Flagler and St. Johns counties.
“When he retired, I knew that I wanted to stay involved in elections,” Wiles said. “I wanted to see it from the other side.”
Wiles also has a soft spot for first-time voters. She said if things aren’t too busy, she and her staff treat them to a celebration from start to finish.
“They get a special sticker when they leave, and if we can, we send up a cheer for them and clap for them,” Wiles said.
This Election Day, both women are gearing up for a busy day, helping voters from all walks of life. Like many, both women had concerns about working this election because of the pandemic.
“I am 66 and have some health issues,” Wiles said. “My desire to see this import election run smoothly in my precinct was the reason I decided to work.”
Bates agreed, saying her family had reservations about her working for fear of the virus. Overall, she said she’s happy with the accommodations the Supervisor of Elections Office has put into place.
“We have shields. We have masks. We have hand sanitizer. At the end of the evening, we purify the air overnight,” Bates said. “I feel very comfortable about the environment we’re in.”
While both women got started working the polls for different reasons, their passion for helping others make their voices heard is the same.