Meet Meredith Tuohey
Meredith Tuohey is a social worker so she has seen up close the many ways that elections directly impact local communities. From health care to racial justice and everything in between, she knows that elections at every level give us an opportunity to “protect the community.” But the 2020 election was, for Meredith, about more than protecting her community; it was also about “protecting my children.”
On the day after the 2016 election, Meredith’s two teenage daughters were sobbing out of fear that a Trump administration would take them away from their same-sex parents. Remembering their fear, says Meredith, the 2020 election “brought out my Mama Bear.” She was unable to work due to COVID or attend, in person, her West Chester U. classes for her Master’s in Social Work. So Meredith figured “what better opportunity” to show her now-older daughters that, yes, you register to vote – “a requirement in my household” – but you do more than that; you fight for justice by being an active member of your community. With fewer demands from work, school, or kids, Meredith could give an impressive lesson in what fighting for justice looks like.
This Ward 3 Mama Bear achieved “super volunteer” status from the safety of home by devoting “hours and hours” to phoning and texting Haverford Township voters. “Meredith stepped up in a huge way with our phone banking effort,” reports Alex Brophy, one of the phonebank organizers. “She must have made well over a thousand calls, completing numerous precincts all by herself, not only for the 3rd Ward, but for other wards that needed additional phone bank volunteers.” Alex partnered with Jon Larsen in coordinating our ambitious phone bank, in which _____ volunteers contacted over 10,000 voters in the township. The math tells us that Meredith alone made over ten percent of the phone bank’s contacts.
High-volume phone work meant that Meredith could get past the many unanswered calls, the hang-up-on-her calls, and the yell-at-her calls. She knew it wasn’t personal and, by continuing to tap on her phone, Meredith “built up memories of lots of good interactions.” That included calls with many Republicans. “We didn’t agree on issues,” explains Meredith, “but it was possible to have a civil conversation with local Republicans who are not just racist Trumpers.”
For Meredith, the Haverford Dems’ phone bank was a good fit because she could introduce herself as a neighbor and because the point of the call/text was to answer specific questions about the when, where, and how of 2020 voting. Most of those she contacted were grateful for the voter information and now associate the local Democratic Party with offering how-to-vote help, not just asking for a Democratic vote.
Those of us who doubt that election texting does any good can learn from Meredith’s experience. She quickly realized that voters between the ages of 18 and 30 don’t respond to phone calls but are very responsive to text messages. Younger voters texted Meredith back to get voting information; some texted her more than once to ask questions about the basics of voting – even on Election Day. Meredith was their personal link to the election, which made her feel “truly effective.”
In fact, on Election Day, when there was no more phoning to be done, Meredith provided rapid response to calls from Democratic poll watchers needing more campaign literature printed and delivered.
Meredith believes “I got more out of volunteering than I gave” in the 2020 election. She wants to encourage other working parents to volunteer but at the level she hit in this COVID-Trump crisis. When the spring primary comes around, volunteering “one hour a week is enough” to make a difference and to make a point for our children. For families, campaign activities like dropping literature on doorsteps or writing postcards are “time-limited, can involve the whole family, and can model good citizenship for our kids.”
Coming off her own 2020 experience, Meredith says that “from here on out, there won’t be an election in which I don’t volunteer with the Haverford Dems.” She feels “so grateful” to live in a township that has a Democratic organization to “tap in to.” She has spoken with Democrats outside of Haverford who “felt like there was no way to help except give money.” The Haverford Democrats offered Meredith a way to become a formidable Mama Bear. She took that opportunity and ran with it.
Her next move as a community member? Meredith has applied to serve on the township’s Human Relations Commission. Here’s hoping she is selected.
Meet Phil Obley
Phil Obley admits “I don’t enjoy calling strangers.” Yet he spent many, many hours during the 2020 campaign talking on the phone with voters all over Pennsylvania. He did it because “I was highly motivated to get Pennsylvania voters to elect Joe Biden.” With his “whole array of reasons” to be concerned about the Trump presidency, including “the corruption, the dismantling of government, and the threat to democracy,” Phil volunteered with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s 2020 Victory Campaign. He “hadn’t planned to get involved in so many activities,” he says now, looking at his impressive list of campaign jobs, “but help was needed in so many areas.”
Recently retired from his career with a soft-ware company, Phil had more time to volunteer than in previous elections, so he answered the PA Dems’ call to contact “infrequent voters” around the state, including in Philadelphia and Delaware County. Soon after, he expanded his volunteer portfolio to include recruiting other volunteers, working off a call list of Democrats who had indicated an interest in volunteering. He must have been very good at “telling about volunteer jobs and explaining the satisfaction that comes with volunteering” because the PA Dems kept Phil on the volunteer recruitment line right up into late October. “I probably spent at much time on recruiting calls for potential volunteers,” he recalls, “as on calls persuading infrequent voters to vote for Joe Biden.”
In addition to recruiting and persuading, Phil also trained so he could answer voters’ questions about mail-in voting and in-person voting. That meant learning “lots of details” related to proper completion of a mail-in ballot, “spoiling” a mail-in ballot, and requesting a provisional ballot at the polls if your mail-in ballot did not arrive by Nov. 3.
For several weeks in September and October, Phil toggled between recruiting calls, persuasion calls, and voter advice calls. Then, in the final two weeks before the election, he added in-person shifts outside both the Media Election Bureau and the “satellite bureau” in Upper Darby, using his training in election rules to assist those who had come to cast a mail-in ballot or inquire about a late mail-in ballot.
To top off his super-volunteer list, Phil did some actual door-to-door canvassing in Chester, talking to those planning to vote on Nov. 3 or leaving literature at the many unanswered doors. Finally, he served as a poll worker for his own Ward 6 on Election Day.
This high level of volunteerism was way beyond anything he’d done in the 2017 or 2018 elections. During most of Phil’s 41 years in Haverford Township, he was a registered Independent who “leaned” Democrat. Shortly after the 2016 election, he attended his first Haverford Democratic Party meeting. After that, he regularly attended Ward 6 meetings and 6-1 precinct meetings. His volunteer experience began with dropping literature in Ward 6 for Democratic candidates running in the county elections. A year later, he stepped up to door-to-door canvassing for Mary Gay Scanlon and state legislative candidates, in addition to writing postcards to voters.
It was the crucible of the 2020 election that forged Phil’s super-volunteer efforts and his electoral education. Like Meredith Tuohey, Phil Obley found a phone-banking niche that suited him well and left him with a satisfying sense that his labors were making a difference. But his volunteer experiences also taught him that “there is a lot of outreach to be done in Pennsylvania.” His hours on the phone revealed to him just how many potential voters simply do not pay attention to electoral politics, see no connection between their daily lives and politics, and are fundamentally “suspicious” of politics and politicians.
It is his great hope that, going forward, the Pennsylvania Democrats will run a “continuous campaign” to educate voters about the link between government, politics, a daily life. Like Meredith Tuohey, who saw that Haverford Democrats can reduce voters’ cynicism by providing a service rather than only trolling for votes, Phil thinks that the PA Dems can make significant gains by reaching out to voters “between campaigns..” He is hopeful that providing unbiased information on voting rules and straightforward information on what’s going on in government, more potential voters will tune into candidates and elections, from the top to the bottom of the ballot.
Phil would be on board to assist in that effort having now learned that the greatest personal benefit in volunteering comes with the “genuine satisfaction in knowing you contributed” and, in 2020, succeeded in replacing Donald Trump with Joe Biden.
Meet Susan Jewett
In the spring of 2009, Susan Jewett oversaw her first election day as Judge of Elections for Ward 8, Precinct 4. She still recalls ending that 14-hour day at the polls with a drive to the Media Courthouse, carrying her precinct’s printed vote tallies from each voting machine. “It was the dark of night. I was totally exhausted. Police were directing all of these cars coming from all over the county. Then I walked down the hall with all of these people who’d done the same thing I’d been doing all day, and saw how the whole process is organized. I thought, “oh my God, I live in the best country in the world. Here it is. Just ordinary people making this happen. And it’s happening in this state and every state in the nation.”
Ten years later, Susan is still serving as the “JOE” in 8-4. She is acutely aware that voters cannot vote without a polling site, polling sites cannot open without a JOE, and no JOE can do an adequate job on election day without trained assistants working “inside” at the polls. So while Susan is a strong Democrat, she has found this non-partisan service to be her best role in the civic drama that we all play out at election time.
Back when she was teaching Art at Lower Merion High School and her husband Carl was teaching Physics, they always voted. But busy careers didn’t leave time for more electoral activity, and Susan admits she didn’t really pay attention to the inside workers at the polls. That changed on election day in 2005, the year of her retirement, when Susan went to the 8-4 polling site and found only the JOE, Jennifer Kuhns, working there without any assistants. Susan promised Jennifer that she would never again have to sit alone at the polls.
Susan has more than kept her promise. Within two years, Jennifer Kuhns had happily moved to the post of “Majority Inspector” at the polls and Susan had been elected Judge of Elections. Jennifer, says Susan, is the precinct’s institutional memory for the myriad details that make Election Day run, while Susan is the organizer of both the day and the “team” she has built, including Rebecca Abrahams as Minority Inspector, Fran Epstein as Minority Clerk, and Peggy Walsh as Machine Inspector. In addition, they have recruited a couple of substitutes to pinch hit when “life happens” and a team member cannot work the polls.
“We enjoy working together,” says Susan, and the party differences between 8-4’s “majority” Democrats and “minority” Republicans is irrelevant to both team continuity and smooth operations on election day. Managing the team like the teacher she was, Susan makes sure every member (including every substitute) is fully trained by the county, and then she trusts them to do whichever part of the job needs doing. Each member does have particular strengths, however. Susan is ready to go at 6:00 a.m., setting up the room before the others arrive, but she is “toast” by 8:00 p.m., when Rebecca has “hit her stride” and is ready to double check everything, including the absentee ballots. Meanwhile, Peggy and Fran provide “rock-steady consistency throughout the day.” Once the team has dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, they end the day with a “group hug,” and Susan drives off with her tallies to join democracy’s throng at the Media Courthouse.
Susan’s husband Carl was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014. In the subsequent years, as caring for him at home became more difficult, Susan doubted she could continue her duties as the 8-4 JOE. When faced with the prospect of not doing the job, however, Susan realized that “my role as JOE was an anchor for me; it made me feel good and useful in a different way, and it gave me one day completely away.” As exhausting as election day was, it still gave Susan some respite and refreshment from caring for her beloved husband, who is now living in an institution that can provide the round-the-clock care he needs.
Early in 2019, Chris Shelton, 8-1 Committee, realized that the Brookline School closure meant 8-1 was without a polling site. When he reached out to Susan for help, she offered to speak with the leadership at Trinity Christian Church of Greater Philadelphia (TCCGP) on Mill Rd., the 8-4 polling site.
Fortunately for every voter in 8-1, Susan had always respected the TCCGP’s generosity in opening their church twice a year to a steady stream of voters. Susan says that she and the church leaders have worked cooperatively; TCCGP sought to be “a part of the community” and Susan has made sure that the church was not burdened with pre-election receipt of the voting machines, furniture moving, or post-election clean-up. Thanks to Susan’s good partnership, the TCCGP quickly agreed to bring a homeless 8-1 precinct into its “manger,” opening a second room for yet more machines, voter traffic, and donut crumbs.
Not every precinct in our township, and certainly not every precinct in our county, is adequately staffed every election day. So it is worth repeating here that voters cannot vote without a polling site, polling sites cannot open without a JOE, and no JOE can do an adequate job on election day without trained assistants working inside at the polls.
Contact your ward leader if you think that, like Susan Jewett, you might find that your best role as a citizen is working inside the polls every election day. Susan’s story is a good reminder that however at sea we may be, politically or personally, poll work can serve as a valuable anchor.
Meet Rebecca Jerosh
Rebecca Jarosh has worked as a Majority Inspector at the polls in Ward 7, Precinct 4 for the last ten years. She arrives at 6:00 a.m. and leaves after 9:00 p.m. In between, she sits behind a table with other volunteers, greeting each voter and checking each name in the registration lists. Along with her polling site’s Judge of Elections, Betty Ann Gittelman, the Republicans’ Minority Inspector, the clerk, and the machine operator, Rebecca’s not-highly-paid job is to ensure a legal, fair process in her precinct. We have 36 precincts in Haverford Township. On every Election Day, we rely on almost 200 volunteers like Rebecca to open and run our polling sites.
While proud that Majority Inspector is a paid, elected position, Rebecca is not sitting at the polls for wealth and power. She’s there because “I love to watch people voting. I get all excited; I cheer and yell when someone says it’s their first time voting.” The pleasure she takes in talking with voters and other volunteers offsets the fatigue that goes with that long day of labor.
It is actually her volunteer work in pre-election canvassing that Rebecca enjoys the most “because I get to talk to people about issues. It was especially fun in this election because there are now more Democrats on our street than before, including some who used to be Republicans.” She draws on her own positive canvassing experience in 7-4 to recruit other volunteers to go door-to-door in the precinct; “people are timid at first, but then they love it.”
After 37 years as a public elementary school teacher in Philadelphia, followed by a stint as principal of Philadelphia’s Hebrew School, Rebecca is happy to be retired in Havertown, where she and her husband have lived for 24 years. Though she regularly answers the call to help out with three young grandchildren in Maryland, her commitment to the Haverford Township Democratic Party keeps her firmly rooted in this community.
Meet Jamie Taglang
Jamie Taglang is not old enough to vote, but that fact has not dimmed his determination to have an impact on elections. Back in April, 2016 – before Donald Trump was elected president – Jamie and his friends June Park and Adam Stuck launched a club for Democrats at Haverford High. Some wanted a non-partisan name, like “Youth for the Future,” but Jamie was in the majority who wanted their club to stand up for the principles and policies of the Democratic Party. Cue “The Young Democrats of Haverford High School,” a club whose email list has grown from 15 students to 160 and whose monthly meetings have burst the seams of classrooms by attracting as many as 60 students. Jamie says membership has grown “for the same reason we started the organization: genuine fear about what’s happening in the country.” Indeed, the group has now affiliated with the High School Democrats of Pennsylvania.
Thanks to volunteers like Jamie, June, and Adam, we can now count on dozens of high school students to canvass for Democratic candidates and use their Election Day “off” from school to serve as poll greeters and inside workers. We also have more 80 registered voters in the township because, Jamie reports, June Park made it her business to get the names of the 119 unregistered students eligible to vote, visit every one of their homerooms, and directly remind them to register. In that successful effort, the Young Democrats partnered with the newly-formed Future Republicans of America at Haverford High, a group with about 50 members.
For Jamie, volunteering gives him “some peace of mind,” knowing that without the campus group, “those 80 students wouldn’t be registered, those 50 students wouldn’t be working at the polls, and many of our members would know about presidential politics but wouldn’t know what a town commissioner does or the significance of a ward.” Volunteering has taught him that political organizing is “tougher than it looks” and that organizers “can’t waste people’s time.” By that he means, “You have to have a plan for a meeting. You don’t want someone thinking, ‘this is what I missed the bus for?’ Meetings have to be purposeful.”
Jamie will be away at college for the 2020 presidential election. Even though he won’t cast a vote at his Ward 6 polling site, he will have the joy of being old enough to vote and the satisfaction of knowing that the Young Democrats of Haverford High School are still here, volunteering to support democracy in the township.
Meet Cari Sundermeier
Cari Sundermeier set two goals for herself after the 2016 election: “become more informed and help my neighbors be more informed.” When she and her husband Jonathan Seitz reached out to Mary Hediger, their Ward 3 leader, for advice on how to reach those goals, they did not expect to be asked to serve as Committee for their precinct or to serve as Judge of Elections. But that’s what they were offered, and they gamely took on roles which, it turns out, suit them “perfectly.” As the 3-3 Judge of Elections, Jonathan enacts his commitment to fairness and impartiality. In her role as Committee, Cari gets to be a source of information for her neighbors and “a model of someone who is engaged and looking out for others, because that’s what Democrats do.”
As a nervous rookie, Cari “took to heart” some advice from Ward 6’s Jen Leith: aim to get someone on every street in your precinct involved in Democratic Party activities. Cari emailed or sent actual letters to everyone in the precinct she personally knew and those who had contacted the party. She offered a manageable task: canvass Dems on 2-3 blocks on your street. “Almost everyone responded,” she recalls with surprise in her voice. “I contacted them just at the moment when they wanted to DO something.” Cari now has 15 postcard captains in 3-3; that’s 15 more Democrats who can be the neighborly face of the party and can be “that person you can ask about writing in a candidate or voting for a candidate twice.”
As a working mom, Cari has learned one great political secret: if you take your kids canvassing with you, people are more likely to answer their doors. As well, her Chestnutwold daughters, Anna and Clara, appreciate the joys of figuring out where to legally leave campaign literature at a neighbor’s house, and cheerfully join Cari in greeting voters at the polls. This year, Cari worried that her paid job, her role as violist for the Landsdowne Symphony, and her family responsibilities meant she had not done “enough”; after all, she had not canvassed many houses. Jonathan pointed out that her job was to recruit others to canvass and to create their turf packets. She’d achieved “the main goal: greater involvement.”
So while Cari is very glad that the Haverford Dems have, in the last two years, created many more roles for those who want to be involved, she’s happy that joining Committee gave her a part in carrying out the Dems’ mission: to serve in every precinct and inspire others to serve.
Meet Gwen McCullough
|Gwen McCullough started out as a Democratic Party volunteer in the 2016 Clinton campaign. A resident of Haverford Township’s Ward 9, Gwen was a single mom who had left college and was working as a waitress when she volunteered. Her goal was to “be involved in something I believed in” and “meet people” who share her beliefs and goals. She reached those goals, but Gwen did not attend the big HTDems’ meeting just after Trump’s election because she was attending new student orientation at West Chester University. Trump’s victory jolted Gwen. “The world just got so much scarier,” she recalls. “I had to start thinking about my life and my daughter’s life. I had to make a change.”
Gwen will graduate in December, 2018, with a degree in Political Science and Psychology. Remarkably, she has increased her Democratic Party activism while a student, working first on Kristen Larsen’s successful campaign for Haverford School Board and on behalf of the Delco Democratic slate that swept the 2017 election. Just delivering lawn signs made her feel a part of something; “people were so excited to see me.” And Dems’ historic victory in the county races “was so exciting. I’ve never experienced anything like that night.” Those experiences fueled Gwen’s political energy. She found that Democrats in local leadership were open to her ideas, like going high-visibility in the Haverford Township Day Parade this fall.
“Because I was asked,” Gwen replies when questioned about why she became co-leader of the HTDems’ Grassroots Team, alongside Jon Larsen. She especially values the team’s mission: outreach into the community. She is also volunteering for Mike Zabel’s campaign to represent the 163rd State Assembly district, which includes her 9th ward. Gwen likes Mike’s “energy, the way he thinks on his feet, the fact that he is really smart and can make a difference in Harrisburg.” In addition, as part of her Political Science major, she is an intern for Leanne Krueger-Braneky, the Democratic state representative from the 161stAssembly district.
When you find a card at your front door that says “Vote for our country. Vote for Pennsylvania. Vote blue.,” know that Gwen “scribbled” that heartfelt pitch during an August HT Dems’ meeting of ward leaders and team leaders planning the fall canvass. “Suddenly,” she recalls, “my idea was adopted.”
Email Gwen at email@example.com if you want to be part of the Grassroots Team and see some of your ideas adopted.
Meet Woody Woodman and Becky Timme!
What better legacy to pass down from generation to generation than a love for your community and a willingness to serve those around you? That’s exactly what Malcolm (“Woody”) Woodman has passed down to his daughter, Becky Timme.
A native of St. Louis, MO, Woody and his wife Rosie have lived in Havertown since 1960. And he’s been active with the Democrats since 1973. Woody credits the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and a local debate between Catholic and public schools for getting him involved locally with the Democrats. Woody twice (in 1973 and 1975) stepped up to run for school board when candidates were scarce. Although he was not elected in either race, Woody was not deterred.
For the next 24 years, Woody served as a Ward 8 committee person for Precinct 1, taking a break when he retired from full-time work in 1999. But Woody never really retired from duty with the Dems. He continued to volunteer in his neighborhood, handing out literature and meeting his neighbors along the way. Most notably, for the past six years, Woody has been serving as the Judge of Elections (JoE).
The JoE works inside the polls for 13-15 hours during Primaries and Elections. The JoE ensures that all runs smoothly and fairly and is responsible for making sure the polls are staffed appropriately. To Woody, the best part of being a JoE is that it “gets you engaged in your neighborhood” and allows you to meet “all of your neighbors.” At age 81, Woody is taking a well-deserved break and is proud that Becky was selected in the May primary to be the JoE candidate on the November ballot in Ward 8, Precinct 1. He’s certain that Becky will do a great job. As he puts it, “people love to talk to her.”
A Havertown native, Becky moved back home, after living and working in Germany, France and Boston for several years, because “there’s something very special about Havertown.” Becky enjoys working at the polls because “you get a much better understanding of how our system works.” Like her father, Becky also loves meeting and talking with neighbors from all parties. It’s a great reminder that “we’re all just people.”
In addition to her new JoE responsibilities Becky works 30 hours a week and is raising three children with her husband. Her oldest son, Jakob, is involved in the Young Democrats at Haverford High School. Again, it appears that Woody's love for community and willingness to be active has been passed to yet another generation in the family.
Meet Rebecca Phelan!
November 8th, 2016. That’s the date that Rebecca Phelan first volunteered to serve as a greeter at the polls for the Haverford Township Democrats in Ward 6. That’s the date that she expected to be a historic day for herself, her daughter, and her country. November 9th, 2016. That’s the date Rebecca Phelan awoke to the sobering election results and the sobering realization that “I hadn't done as much as I'd known deep down I should be doing.”
With newfound motivation and a nudge from a friend, Rebecca agreed to run for Inspector of Elections in Ward 6, Precinct 4. The Inspector of Elections spends the 13 hours of Election Day inside the polls checking in voters and ensuring that all runs smoothly. Sound grueling? Not to Rebecca. "Even though it means being inside all day,” she says, “ I love seeing everyone in the neighborhood come through, spending the day with the team in our beautiful school, and seeing the very interesting and pretty complicated behind-the-scenes work that goes into an election for every single precinct across the country.” Rebecca knew that door-to-door canvassing was not for her, so she found a job that served the Democratic Party and suited her style.
A resident of Ardmore for the past five years, Rebecca loves to spend time with her husband, her two children, and their dog and is very involved at Chestnutwold, where her children go to school. And, since the 2016 election, she has been active with Havertown Community Action Network (H-CAN) and Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN). As a citizen who is now acutely aware that elections have consequences, Rebecca has stepped outside of her comfort zone and she’s not going back anytime soon. Election Day will forever be so much more than just a fun day off from school in the Phelan household.