In her three decades as an employee of the Columbus city government, Nancy Boren has held a strange variety of roles.
She began as a deputy coroner, spent a little more than a year as the affirmative action officer, and for the last 20 years has been the director of elections.
She's also seen the law enforcement side of the city during her 20-year marriage to police Chief Ricky Boren.
She recently sat down with Ledger-Enquirer reporter Chuck Williams to discuss her current job, past jobs and her family.
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Here are excerpts of the interview, with some of the questions edited for length and the order of some of the questions rearranged for clarity.
Elections is a pretty sacred job, right?
Yes, absolutely. We touch every citizen in Muscogee County. ... We maintain the voter list, we choose voting precincts, we are responsible for everything associated with elections and with voter registration, which includes not only the local ordinances and laws, but also the state and federal laws.
How many (people) are registered?
Only about 105,000 are registered.
That's out of nearly 200,000. Out of that 105,000, how many of them vote on average?
That's the really sad part. Typically, in a primary we have 20 percent or less, and in a general election we have a little bit more, 50 percent. Presidential, we'll be looking at a little bit more this time, especially since it is a new election cycle. So, we'll be looking at 60-70 percent.
So 60-70 percent is a huge number. What was it in 2008 when President Obama was elected?
In 2008, we expected a huge record turnout. We did not have that here in Muscogee County. We had about a 65 percent turnout.
How many people work with you here?
It is myself and I have six full-time employees. We of course beef up during the election cycle and we hire temporaries for all of our early voting sites, as well as our voting precincts. So, we have about 45 people who work early voting, and we have 300 or 400 who work the precincts on election day.
From your perspective, has early voting made it better or is it more complicated?
From our perspective, we like early voting. It gives us a little more control as far as the workers and experienced workers. So, we like early voting and we like providing opportunities for people to vote early.
You've been doing this job how many years?
I have been doing this 20 years.
Is (early voting) the biggest change you've seen in your 20 years in doing this?
No. The biggest change I've seen is technology. Technology has allowed us to change the way we vote and change the way we offer opportunities for citizens to vote.
In what ways?
First, we did our precinct consolidation in 2010. We went from 48 precincts to 27 precincts because technology allowed us to do that. It allowed us to offer the right ballot to the voter based on where they lived and the district they are qualified to vote in. So, technology has helped us out tremendously.
Why can't you run the advance votes early?
I'm glad you asked that. I had someone ask me that the other day. What you can do are the paper optical scan ballots and we do those early.
And that's the absentees?
That's the people who vote a paper ballot. So, the mail-out ballots are absentee ballots. The advance votes are also called absentee. When you run that ballot through the optical scan, the only thing you see is the increment, the number go up by one based on how many ballots you run through. You have to end the process and then you print a tape that shows the total amount on that optical scanner.
When you have an advance voting machine, a touch screen unit, when you turn that machine and you end the election, a tape comes out and it's a total tape. So, if we were to do it early, say noon or 3 p.m., there's the possibility, but first it's against the law, and then secondly, you see those totals so you know how the votes on that machine are counted.
So, if we were to print out tapes from all of our 75 voting machines early, someone could total those and find out what the outcome of the election is. We would love to be able to open our machines early. We would love to be able to total the advance votes early, but at this point the law won't allow for that because of that total tape that prints out.
Can you total them at 7 p.m. though?
We do, but there is a process that you have to go through. You have to have a recap sheet, and on that recap sheet you have to verify the seal that was placed on that machine when voting ended to be sure it's the same seal to verify that the machine hasn't been tampered with.
So, does the process take an hour?
That process takes time. You can't break the seal on the machine until 7 p.m. Once you break the seal then you open the machine, you unlock it, you start running your tape. Once you run the tape, you have to run three. You can then remove the memory card and then you can move it over to the queue to be counted. What we do is we put it in the queue when precincts are received.
So, if we've received 10 precincts before we finish the absentee, then it's the 11th precinct that is counted. But, the early voting is the largest precinct that you have. So, in a big election you have 60 or 70 early voting machines, where at the precinct, you might have 12 or 15. And you know how long it takes at the precinct for them to run the tape and then post it. So, imagine doing that for 70 machines instead for 12 or 15. So, that's the amount of time for the early voting.
So, you've been doing this 20 years. How long have you been working for the Columbus government?
Twenty-nine years. I started as a mere child.
But you didn't do a child's job.
No. Not at all.
Your first job was with the coroner's office, right?
Yes, it was.
How did you get hired by the Muscogee County Coroner's office?
It's really a pretty funny story. I was actually in real estate at the time and couldn't afford to keep my pager any longer. So, I went to the pager company to turn in my pager and the girl behind the counter was having a long conversation on the telephone. The supervisor came out and said, "Look, you need to get off the phone and talk to your customer."
So, when she got off the phone she said, "You wouldn't happen to be looking for a job, would you?" And I said, "No, I'm just here to turn in my pager." And the more I sat there and thought about it I said, "You know, I might be interested in that." I said, "Can you give me the information?" She said, "Yes, it would be for the coroner's office." And I said, "Just give me the name and telephone number."
So, I went back to my real estate office at the time and picked up the phone, made the call to Don Kilgore, who was coroner at the time. He interviewed me that afternoon and hired me that afternoon.
Did you know him before you called him?
I had no clue who he was before I called him.
Describe Don Kilgore.
Don Kilgore was a treat to work for. I had very fond feelings for Don. I'm really glad that was my first position in city government because he taught me a lot of things that I have carried with me my entire career.
What was the toughest part about being a deputy coroner?
The toughest part was having to respond to a call where a child had passed away as a result of an accident or an unexpected death, which most children's deaths were. And that was the most difficult part.
How do you put your emotions and your instincts aside in situations like that?
The very fortunate part for me was that I was single, I wasn't married and I didn't have children. From my perspective now, if I had been doing that job now it would have been extremely difficult. But, you put your perceptions aside and you realize -- and that's what Don taught us early on -- you are there for the family. You are there to help that family through the most difficult time probably that they have ever experienced in their lives. So, you have to be the professional and you have to be there to help them through and kind of walk them through the process, and to do the best job that you can do.
You and Don probably made a pretty good team because you were probably softer and he was a little more gruff, right?
Yes, definitely. Don and I did make a pretty good team, although for a variety of reasons. I would operate the siren in his car while he drove.
What did that job teach you?
That job taught me -- and this was a direct result of Don -- that professionalism was important. Don expected us if we were out at 2 o'clock in the morning or 5 o'clock in the morning to be dressed as a professional and to act as a professional. So, professionalism was the first thing. Quick responsiveness -- he required us to be at a call within 15 minutes, whether it was midnight, whether it was Christmas Day, whatever that time was.
So, professionalism and response to the public was two very important things he taught me. And the third thing was to always think. Don's favorite subject was "Think." Right above the county morgue chair where he sat was a plaque, and it just said the simple word "Think." He used the philosophy on crime scenes and he wanted us to use that philosophy too. And when they remodeled the county morgue I was able to get that little plaque that says "Think," and I keep it on my desk so I can remember it all of the time.
Was there ever a point when you were working in the coroner's office during a call, did you ever say, "Why am I doing this?"
I didn't wonder that until I was nine years into the position and I went to a death call where a child had been killed by a boyfriend who was there keeping the child. And I felt no emotion, and so I knew at that point that I had probably exhausted the time that I needed to be in the coroner's office because I didn't feel any emotion.
Did you start looking after that call? Did you say, "OK, what can I do next?"
The opportunity came forward for an affirmative action officer with the city.
Affirmative action officer?
How long did you stay in that role?
A year and three months.
Were you one of the first affirmative action officers?
I was not one of the first ones, but I believe I was the first white affirmative action officer.
What were your responsibilities?
Part of it was to hear complaints from employees in reference to policies and procedures, disciplinary complaints, to ensure fairness in hiring practices. There were a variety of things that we were charged with. One of the things that Mayor Martin wanted and his philosophy was to have every employee treat each other the way you would want to be treated.
Did you like working for Butch (Martin)?
He was a different kind of mayor from any mayor we've had in the city, right?
In what way?
Two very unique personalities that I worked for first was Don and then to go to work for Frank. Just very unique in that he gave you free reign. I had to make very difficult decision about a personnel issue and was so afraid at that point that he was going to say, "We no longer need your services." But when I gave him my report, he stood by me not only 100 percent but 110 percent.
You worked for two of the strongest personalities that have been in the last 50 years in this city.
Very strong personalities.
What was the difference in Frank Martin and Don Kilgore?
Don was a little more outspoken than Mayor Martin. Don was a politician. He knew how to get around different kinds of people.
Frank was mayor but he wasn't much of a politician, was he?
No, he wasn't.
When you look at a lot of things that have happened in the city over the last 25 years, going back to 1990 and the sales tax, how much of that credit do you give to Frank Martin?
I think Frank was definitely the leader in the push for all of those projects, but I certainly think it also took a team for it to happen. And certainly that team included the citizens with the 1 cent, so I think it was just an overall effort for the leadership as well as the people in the community.
So, you became head of elections in what year?
In December 1995.
What did you know about elections?
I had voted in every election since I turned 18. I understood a little bit about the partisan politics. Don was a Democrat, so I understood a little bit of the partisan issues, but it was definitely an uphill learning curve for me because 1996 was a presidential election year. So, I jumped right in full force.
And that was about the time you and Ricky were getting married, right?
Right, Ricky and I got married December 19, 1995.
So, you took this job and then you and Ricky got married. How did you and Ricky meet? He was a detective then, right?
He was with the homicide squad initially when I was with the coroner's office.
So, you had known him through work-related stuff?
What made you fall in love?
He has a tremendous sense of humor that most people don't get to see, and you really have to know him to understand his humor. I can pretty much predict his humor now. But, he's really funny and a lot of people don't get the opportunity to see that. They think he's this stoic, serious person all of the time, but he's really not.
Your job can be demanding. His job as chief of police is 24-7, 365, right?
What tax does that place on a marriage?
Obviously you have to have an agreement between the two parties as far as who is going to take the lead role in the family and who is going to take the lead role of a career. So, 20 years ago when we got married we made the decision that I would take the mommy track and he would take the career track. So, my major responsibility has been for the family while his career has taken a very important part of our lives. Saying that, I couldn't have done that without my wonderful parents who have cared for my children.
You say mommy track. Three kids. Is mom the best job you ever had?
Definitely the best job.
What do you like about being a mom?
I like watching my children grow. You know, when they were little you had the day to day cares -- changing the diapers, feeding them and watching them. But as they grow you start to see these new components of their personality. You see their whole new personalities take place and you see, I guess, the fruits of your labor early on when you would read a book to them when they were 2 years old or 4 years old. You see the fruits of all of that as they excel in school.
How do your kids handle having both parents in the public spotlight at times?
They are proud of both of us, and that makes our jobs a little bit easier when your kids are proud of you. My daughter Madelyn, the oldest, if you ask her what she wants to do, she says she wants to be in politics. "I want to be a lawyer and then I want to be in politics." And she has this great appreciation for everything political.
One of the apps on her phone is Politico, so she just pours over Politico constantly. Caroline enjoys it because everybody tells her she looks just like her dad. And of course, Will Thomas, our son, loves it because he loves Dad's cars.
You grew up in a fairly athletic family. You and your father rode bikes together for many years, right?
How important was it to have that athletic connection with your parents, and have you continued that with your kids?
Yes. So my dad said that part of keeping a child close to you as they grow is having some kind of connection such as bike riding or some athletic connection, so he picked bike riding. And we did Bike Ride Across Georgia 10 or 11 years, and we've maintained that close contact through those bike rides. There are a lot of solitary moments on a bike ride where you can talk back and forth to each other. One of the memories that I have of my dad and I riding bikes is we were riding along and he would always tell me, "I love you, you know I love you." And I'd say, "I know you do, Dad."
And shortly after that a dog ran out in front of him and he had a bicycle wreck. And so I thought, "Wow, the last thing he said to me was how much he loved me." So, we've always had that connection. I remember when I was 6 years old him making me get up at 6 o'clock in the morning when it was still dark outside and the stars were still out and get out and ride my bike with my little light on my bicycle. We've always had that connection. And then with my children, I took up tennis so I could play tennis with them. I'm not as good as they are but we play tennis together, and my son and I do NASCAR together.
How old were your daughters when they started beating you in tennis?
Oh gosh. They could beat me right from the beginning. They are just really good players, and they've had a really great coach.
So, a lot of your weekends are spent going to tennis tournaments, right?
Right. We do go to a lot of tournaments out of town. We attend Rome. We have one coming up in Macon next weekend, so a lot of our time is spent traveling.
Has that given you the same connection with your kids that you got with your dad through the cycling?
It has because they will still get out and hit with me now but I make them hit with their left hand.
My son loves cars. He can tell you everything about a car -- kind of motor, kind of tires -- from years ago. So the thing we do together is we go to the NASCAR races and he loves it.
What races have you been to?
We go to Hampton Motor Speedway.
Does his dad go with y'all?
No. His dad doesn't like NASCAR, so it's my son and I.
That's a little different.
It's fun. It's really fun.
Who is his favorite driver?
Who is your favorite driver?
I like Jeff Gordon, too. My son also likes Danica Patrick just because he thinks she's pretty. So, probably Jeff, but he's retiring this year.
As you look at Columbus, you grew up here and stayed here. Do you think Columbus will have what it takes for your kids to stay here?
I think Columbus does have what my kids will want to stay here. My oldest daughter is 17 and is starting to look at colleges and universities. She's a really great student, really good tennis player, so she has a lot of opportunities, but her choice is "Mom, a lot of them can't beat CSU for the first four years."
So, I think Columbus has a lot of the things they need. My kids love the downtown area. If they have a choice to go anywhere in Columbus it's "let's go downtown." "Well, what do you want to do?" "Well, it doesn't matter, let's just go downtown." I think there are a lot of activities that they will enjoy and will do in the future.
How has Columbus changed for your daughter coming out of high school in 2016 than when you came out of high school in 1980?
There is just so much more to do. We have whitewater, we have biking trails, we have a lot of outdoor activities that they can get involved in. None of that was available when I came out of high school in 1980.
Are you surprised when you see what's happened here and how the community has changed?
I'm not totally surprised because I've been a part of the process as it has occurred. I'm certainly on the fringes, but I've seen all of the proposals and all of the talk about our community. And I think it's just a vision that has finally come to be.
What is the most important thing that has happened in this town in your lifetime? In your adult lifetime.
I would say all of the opportunities that we have. We have opportunities for education. We have opportunities for outside activities. We just have a lot of opportunities that are available in our community that make it a place where people want to stay.
As you look at quality of life -- and obviously you are a mother with three kids and are about to start pushing them into college -- how much of your quality of life has been impacted as a mom and as a career person by having your parents in town with you?
I can't even talk about how great that impact was. My children never attended day care. My parents kept all three of my children while I worked. They taught them lessons they would never learn in school, so when they went to kindergarten they already knew the life cycle of a tree or a leaf.
They knew a lot of wise things that my mom and dad were able to teach them. My mother would have "Pitts Day School" for my kids before they started school. So, I can't even place a value on how much that has helped our family.
What has been the best part of doing this job, being in the elections office?
I think the best part about doing this job is seeing how things have changed over those 20 years. Looking back when I first took this position, the county was just implementing the optical scan voting system.
My predecessor Barbara Carter and the board had purchased this optical scanning voting equipment and it was my opportunity to be able to implement it in the county. To go from optical scan to electronic voting in 2001, which was a state mandate, I have been able to see a lot of changes in the way that we do things.
How has the political climate changed in your 20 years in the election office?
The political climate changes with every election. I don't think you can box 20 years into one statement because every election cycle is a different political climate. If you were here in 2008 and you were running as an elected official, or someone in 2008 if you had a "D" beside your name, it was almost a positive shoo-in that you were going to get the position. That changes with every election, as we anticipate in 2016.
This office has a rich history. This was one of the first election offices in Georgia to register an African American, right?
Primus King was actually the first African American to vote in a primary here in Muscogee County.
And you have a picture of Primus King hanging in your lobby. Why is it important to keep that portrait in the lobby of this office?
I think it's a reminder of how far we have come as far as election processes. So, every day when we walk by we are reminded that we have to continue to change, that there are going to be things and reasons why we need to change. And that portrait hanging right by the door as we walk in is a reminder of that constant need to change.
And you moved that portrait when you moved from the old Government Center, and that portrait stayed in a prominent place.
It did. There's actually a resolution that mandates that it stays in the elections office. That's the resolution right beside the picture. So, it mandates that it stays in the elections office, but we selected the location so we could be reminded every day that we walk in.
BioName: Nancy BorenAge: 52Job: Director of Elections, Muscogee CountyHometown: Harris County, Bartlett’s Ferry Road, BackwatersCurrent home: ColumbusEducation: Brookstone School, 1980; Columbus State University, degree in criminal justice, 1988; Columbus State University, master’s degree in public administration, 1990Family: Ricky Boren, husband of 20 years; daughters Madelyn, a rising senior, and Caroline, a rising sophomore, both at Columbus High; and son, Will Thomas, a rising seventh-grader at Blackmon Road Middle School. Parents are William and Mora Pitts, who still live in Harris County in the home she was raised in.