Person of the Week
Patty Jackson-Marshall Rises to the Challenges of 2020
Patty Jackson-Marshall (D) has been one of North Haven’s registrar of voters for the past 12 years. (Photo courtesy of Patty Jackson-Marshall )
There are a lot of things that Patty Jackson-Marshall hasn’t expected in her career. While she had never considered working for a municipality or becoming the Democratic registrar of voters for the Town of North Haven, the opportunity came up about 12 years ago and she has held the position ever since.
Though there have been many challenges throughout her career, 2020 brought more of the unexpected than she could have ever imagined. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Patty knew the year would be one like she’d never experienced.
“I remember watching the news reports of the virus in January and talking to my husband about my reservations about running a primary on April 28,” says Patty. “This year, my part-time elected job was like a 9 to 5 job because there was so much to catch up on and so many changes.”
As Patty had thought, COVID pushed back the primaries, moving the election from April to August with many adjustments to the process required. In addition to adjusting to the different health and safety protocols, a new Republican registrar of voters, Laurie-Jean Hannon, began working in March.
“Teaching someone the basics is always fun, but with a primary looming, there was a lot to do and a lot of what the state asked of us changed and we had to keep up with it,” says Patty. “Laurie-Jean jumped right in and had to start in the middle of this. She was the treasurer of the town, so she knows some of the dos and don’ts of financing and has been helpful with the budget.”
Patty is also grateful to the staff in her office, including Democratic deputy Barbara Feinberg and Republican deputy Debbie Volain, as well as Town Clerk Stacey Yarbrough and her staff. The deputies assist in preparing for elections as part-time employees, though like Patty, they also had more to do in 2020.
“Our deputies are such dedicated and hard-working people. This year was such a novelty that they worked a lot helping with the load of work that was involved,” says Patty. “This year was also a lot of work for Stacey Yarbrough and her staff and they worked with us so well. It was a great team that worked hard with dedication and humor.”
In addition to the challenges raised by the large increase in absentee ballots for both the primary and presidential election, another difficulty the registrars had to face was staffing the polls. Many of their poll workers have worked on Election Day for years, though Patty noted that many were older than 60, making them more vulnerable during a pandemic.
In addition to finding people willing to work, Patty found it difficult to explain what the day would look like, as protocols were still being finalized. When the primaries finally took place in August, Patty saw the poll workers spending the day in full PPE, in gyms that could be up to 90 degrees. In November, there was still PPE, in addition to plexiglass barriers.
“The poll workers are the true heroes,” says Patty. “It was a challenge, but a huge portion worked again in November.”
Patty and the staff began to spread the word that help was needed, as did the Secretary of the State’s Office. There were also many organizations that kept the public informed about the need for poll workers. Patty says that most years, many of the workers are people who are retired from the workforce, but this year, there was a jump in the number of younger workers.
“There are a lot of people who don’t have jobs right now and we had a lot of people who came out to help,” says Patty. “It’s a 17-hour day for, basically, minimum wage. They’re remarkable and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
Patty knows the challenges of being a poll worker firsthand as that is how she found her way to becoming the register of voters. In 2008, while working at the polls, then-first selectman Janet McCarty, who Patty knew from the PTA of their children’s school, explained that there was an opening.
Later that week, Patty went to Town Hall to see what the job would entail and three weeks later, she had started the post. Every two years since then, Patty has been renominated by the Democratic Party and re-elected.
“I didn’t have designs on becoming the registrar, but Janet and I were friends and I knew her administrative assistant, who had put a bug in Janet’s ear that I might be a good fit,” says Patty. “Back in 2008, it was not as complicated as it is now, but for a part-time elected job, there’s a lot of accountability, endless regulations, and responsibilities that don’t fit into the 9 to 12 kind of day.”
Patty’s family was originally from West Virginia, but her father’s job brought them to Connecticut in 1965 and they have called North Haven home since then. Patty went to school in town before attending the University of Connecticut to study higher education and student affairs.
While she began her career working in a residential life position with UConn and Eastern Connecticut State University, she married her husband James. Though they lived outside of North Haven for a short time, they wanted to raise their children near their grandparents with Patty’s parents still living in North Haven and James’s in Ellington.
“We wanted the kids to know their grandparents,” says Patty. “I grew up far from grandparents so wanted kids to have that and it was a godsend.”
When they had their first child, Patty retired from her residential life career to raise her family. Her children, Emma and Sam, were in high school when she became the town’s registrar. Emma is now a teacher and Sam worked in IT.
“My family has always been supportive and Sam and my husband are very interested in politics,” says Patty. “They know how hard I work and have written nice things about it on social media. It’s sweet.”
Patty has always tried to give back to the community. When her children were young, she was active with the PTA. She has also enjoyed helping with the holiday food distribution hosted by the Community Services Department over the years alongside her son.
“That’s a wonderful opportunity for people to get involved,” says Patty. “It really shows you that it doesn’t matter where you are, every issue is local and you never know who’s in need.”
Outside of work and volunteering, Patty enjoys spending time with her family, baking, and cooking, as well as hobbies she learned from her grandmother like crocheting and embroidery. With the unexpected changes brought on by 2020 and extra time with her job, Patty hasn’t had time to focus on her projects this year. Now that her role in the presidential election is nearly complete, she is hoping to return to her hobbies and a calmer year in 2021.
“I feel like I’ve been preparing for presidential election since February with so many obstacles along the way and though we haven’t quite put it all to bed as there is still data to enter, our results are certified,” says Patty, who hopes her next year as registrar isn’t as eventful. “Over the years, you work to make voting accessibility easier and better for people in town because that’s who we work for, the town of North Haven’s citizens.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .