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A Noble Calling

News Type Public Address

Tonya Wichman, Defiance (Ohio) County director of elections, left, and deputy director Rosanne Rickabaugh explain registration and voting options at outreach events like this Constitution Day last fall at Defiance College. 

By Joan Slattery Wall

Last summer, Tonya Wichman, Defiance (Ohio) County director of elections, went to Sierra Leone as a short-term international elections observer with the Carter Center. 

“People there were threatened, and there were signs put up in locations saying, ‘If you vote for this person, we’re going to burn down your houses and kill your family,” she said. “But we had people the next day lined up to vote.” 

The day before the presidential election, guards took Wichman to meet the elections commissioner, who told her: “I love the day before the election. Tomorrow, I get to let people vote.” 

Tonya Wichman, center left, exchanges information with election workers in Sierra Leone the day before the presidential election there in 2023.  

Wichman, a certificate recipient and former instructor in the Ohio Registered Election Officials (OREO) program put on by the Ohio Association of Election Officials and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, calls the experience life changing. 

“They’ve only had opportunity to vote since 2007 in Sierra Leone. They take such pride in it. And we have people that say voting just doesn’t matter,” said Wichman. 

“I’m really proud of what our elections office does and that we are part of the freedom that we have,” Wichman said. “We theme our elections: We’ve used ‘defenders of democracy’ instead of ‘poll workers’ for the November election. That sums it up so well. They are the defenders of democracy.” 

Megan Hasting, program manager for professional development at the Glenn College, led the Ohio Registered Election Officials program for three years and was amazed when, attending OREO sessions, she learned details about what she called the “massive undertaking” of election preparation.  

“I don’t think the general public is aware of the complexity that goes into the legal and processes work with election administration,” Hasting said. “Everything we talk about at the Glenn College is contingent upon being able to engage in a democratic system. Policy areas, functioning in democratic space — the workhorse of that is the elections administration system. You realize how fragile that system is and how dedicated the people are to make it work.” 

The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that nearly 800,000 people will serve as poll workers on Election Day this November. Election officials and employees vary across the U.S., but Ohio alone has more than 1,200 full-time election officials.  

“I can’t think of a nobler calling if you want to serve your country,” said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. “We have a saying, you know, ‘Once you come into elections and you start working in this world, it gets in your blood.’ It becomes addictive in a way, because you understand you are making a huge, huge difference. This is the way we’ve governed ourselves for almost 250 years, and you are literally front and center. You are making that happen.” 

Meet some of the defenders of democracy who have ties to the Glenn College. 

Phil Niedzielski-Eichner

Phil Niedzielski-Eichner checks a voter’s registration at the spring presidential primary election in Virginia.

Niedzielski-Eichner, who received his master of public affairs degree from the Glenn College in 1979, became an election officer in Fairfax, Virginia, in 2020 when people began questioning the integrity of the election. Everybody, he said, needs to determine how they’re going to contribute.  

Some, he said, will say they don’t trust the process so they’re no longer going to vote; others say they are not happy with it, but they’ll abide by the elections. 

“Others like me say if the integrity of elections is going to be challenged, then I’m going to be involved in either solving a problem that may exist or, if there is a concern, be involved in addressing it to demonstrate sufficiently the misperception of the lack of validity of the elections process,” he said. “I think lot of election officers I’ve interacted with hold the same value. They recognize the fundamental importance of voting and the integrity of voting so that they want to be involved to protect its integrity.” 

Trained to conduct Election Day voter registration, Niedzielski-Eichner had an instance where a young man found out he had come to the wrong precinct to register. 

“His was 1.5 miles away. He said, ‘I don’t have a car. I’ll just walk,’” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “Our being able to register people at the poll site itself encouraged that young man to register and then walk to the right precinct to vote.” 

Fearmongering hasn’t been an issue in his community of 1.3 million people, he said.  

“At the immediate election after the 2020 presidential election, people showed up who stood behind us as we were registering people and watched what we did. It was telling that there was never, ever a comment made that the elections were not valid,” he said. 


“Transparency is everything.”  

Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, MPA, 1979 


“If people that you trust say it was a good election,” Niedzielski-Eichner said, “that should be enough, and transparency facilitates that.” 

A nuclear policy expert with over 45 years of private and public sector professional experience, including senior executive service (SES) appointments in the U.S. Departments of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he’s pleased to have had the opportunity to serve his local community. He twice ran successfully for his local school board and once unsuccessfully for district supervisor. 

“I was honored to do it. It was a great experience. While disappointing in the results, overall it’s just the participation that is half the battle,” he said regarding the district supervisor race, after which he joined the local planning commission that he now chairs. “If we have good people running for office, democracy is going to succeed, but if good people stay on sidelines and let other people do the hard work, we run the risk of losing what we have. It’s a judgment of how one can make a difference.” 

Chad Seeberg

Chad Seeberg has volunteered at elections for nearly 20 years and has witnessed the aging out of poll workers and a need for young volunteers.

Seeberg, who received his master’s degree in public policy and administration from the Glenn College in 2002, sees parallels between his Union County (Ohio) Board of Elections work and his 23-year career at the Marysville Division of Police, where he is now a captain. 

“I think Union County runs a model system in terms of process, tech utilization and staff efficiency,” he said. “What I’ve seen here locally is they almost treat it like a criminal or civil case.” 


“You have everything prepared to show the integrity of the entire process.” 

Chad Seeberg, MA, public policy and administration, 2002 


Seeberg has volunteered with the elections process as a poll worker, precinct judge and rover for up to seven precincts.  

“My work environment has helped me in the position to understand the process and make sure things are done with integrity and how little things must be done that might not seem important,” he explained. “We have a binder to record anything unusual. The presiding judges have a log, too, but as I go from location to location seeing patterns of things, we can make notes of that to improve the overall process. We make sure to have enough extension cords and tape cords for trip hazards, for example — things you don’t think about when you go to vote.” 

Currently president of the board of trustees at Marysville Public Library, he became involved in elections after finishing his Glenn College master’s degree. 

“My son was born in 2003, so I thought it would be a good example to set on how to serve your local community,” he said. “In my professional role, sometimes we don’t always see the best sides of people, so this allowed me to engage with a different part of the community I didn’t see every day and keep other interactions going, especially in a smaller community. That was post-2000 election, so everything that went with that and the integrity of the process is what’s driven me the most to make sure that’s maintained or carried out.” 

Tonya Wichman

Tonya Wichman (center), Defiance (Ohio) County director of elections, and fellow staff members host voter and volunteer outreach efforts at community events like the annual Defiance Rib Fest. 

In contrast to Niedzielski-Eichner’s experience, Wichman has had her share of challenges: accusations that the election results were manipulated, hostile public information requests, misinformation posted on her social media accounts.

“It’s a lot of pressure being under a nonstop microscope like we are now,” she said. “People are waiting for a mistake. Everyone who runs an election is human, and we test everything. Any type of error is going to be blown up to a point where you won’t have your job anymore.” 

That’s why she’ll explain the elections process to anyone who will listen in an effort to combat misinformation and disinformation.  

“I had a gentleman calling in to ask if we rigged elections after 2020 election. I invited him to be a poll worker. He said, ‘I had no idea what was involved,’ and he’s been a poll worker for the last two and a half years,” she said. “High school kids come and work. They’re telling their parents.” 


“Eventually we’re going to have everybody understand it.” 

Tonya Wichman, Defiance (Ohio) County Director of Elections 


She estimates her job has tripled in what she needs to know and do before an election. 

“When I first started, I would say it was a much more simple process. We didn’t have to be cybersecurity experts, legal experts,” she said, referring to technology and legislative changes and security directives. “I think I had to entirely relearn my job after my first four years here because of so many adjustments.” 

Still, despite the overwhelming time and effort she, her staff and poll workers put into elections, she recognizes the impact they have on democracy. 

“We’ll have hundreds of provisional ballots just in a small county. We had a race in 2019 for a local township trustee. It was tied after early voting, after mail in votes and after the day of the vote, and we had one provisional ballot — that provisional decided the race,” she said. “I tell that story all the time: Every vote counts. We find everything. There’s a log of everything, so we know if we’re missing anything. 

A Referendum on Citizen Engagement

See how the Glenn College joins local, state and national efforts to solidify and boost involvement in the U.S. elections process.  

Read the latest edition of Public Address, the Glenn College magazine.