Meet Your Neighbor: For Shelby Ward, working elections 'right thing to do'

John Thompson • May 4, 2014 at 8:38 PM

ELIZABETHTON — It takes a lot of hard-working, community-spirited people to make Tuesday’s primary election possible.

One of those dedicated people is Shelby Ward, who worked every day of early voting at the Carter County Election Office and will work the polls at Central Elementary School on election day. She has worked nearly every election in Carter County for nearly 20 years.

“I think bad things happen when people don’t vote,” Ward said.

“I always thought that helping with an election was the right thing to do,” Ward said. “When I started, I thought it was just a civic duty. I didn’t even know we were going to get paid to do it.”

Ward is very respectful of the process and follows the rules to the letter. That includes checking a photo identification of every voter. She said even the election workers must show their driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification before getting to vote. She sees it as an important safeguard so that people know the elections are being run in an honest and professional manner.

That goes for campaigning inside the 100-foot boundary of the polling places. Ward has to ask some voters to remove their campaign hats or turn a political T-shirt inside out. She said most people understand and comply without complaint.

While Ward is serious about enforcing the election rules, she said she has fun on election days.

“I love meeting people,” Ward said.

Ward is also confident that elections in Carter County are fair and honest. From an insider’s view, she sees the great pains that are made by the county Election Commission to make sure there is no fraud and to make sure that every vote is counted correctly. It is a very precise process handed down by the Tennessee Election Commission, and all counties follow the same rules.

When Shaw is not helping the election commission, she is just as civic-minded and has plenty of other things to keep her busy.

She is a volunteer at Mountain Home Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and is a leader in the Tri-Cities Marine Auxiliary League. During Christmas, she is busy with the Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign.

She is also an active member of the Johnson City chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness and has been an officer on the state level of the organization. She also provides her phone number and is there for a mental illness sufferer whenever they need her.

She is a volunteer at her church, Sinking Creek Baptist Church, and helps with Bible School in the summers and the Judgment House during the Halloween season. She also works as a substitute teacher for the church’s Sunday schools.

“I try to stay busy,” Ward said.

Ward grew up in Goldsboro, N.C. She found her way to Carter County by marrying Bob Shaw. They met while he was serving in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune, N.C. As the wife of a career Marine, she has lived at Quantico, Va. and Camp Pendleton, Calif., but also had to endure a lot of time without him as he preformed his mission across the globe.

Her daughter, Debra, has followed in her mother’s footsteps of serving others. Debra was in the Army when she met Jim Butz. They married, but sadly, he was critically injured when he was struck by a drunken driver going the wrong way on a four-lane highway at Fort Knox, Ky., in 1977. She said Debra has been devoted in providing care for him.

“I am so proud of her,” Ward said.

Ward has two other grown children, Bobbie and Steve, who also enjoy their mother’s love.

On the Monday after Easter, there was a new member of the family born, Liam Sanders. “He is the first baby in the family in 25 years,” Ward said.

Incredibly, the child also officially makes the active and dedicated Ward a great-grandmother.

As anyone who sees Ward working at the polls, her new title hasn’t tempted her to slow down or give up any of her civic obligations.

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