Bobby Rice of Asbury is on something of a farewell tour.
He’s been a pollworker in the Asbury beat since 1969. That’s 51 years or helping hold elections in his home beat. But the 83-year-old says this will be his last election cycle.
He worked last week’s runoff election. And he will work the Nov. 3 general election.
The attraction of the work for Bobby has been simple. He enjoys seeing his friends and neighbors as they come to cast their ballots.
Asbury, Martling and Poplar Springs were all combined into one beat many, many years ago. He started working elections when Asbury got its own polling place in 1969. Those voting beats are all back together again and he is still working elections at Asbury.
To put in perspective Bobby’s incredible run, Probate Judge Andrea LeCroy, the county’s chief election official, was born in 1969.
“When he told me how long he had been doing this, I told him he’d been a pollworker as long as I had been alive,” Judge Lecroy said. “I love Mr. Rice. I never had to worry about Asbury beat with him there, and with the late Ken Burns. They made a great team.”
Bobby’s first election was a special election in December of 1969.
“They made me the inspector,” Bobby said. That’s the chief guy in charge of the voting place, supervising everything that goes on.
And voting was a lot different in those early days. The old box-style voting machines had not yet come into vogue in Marshall County. People voted a hand-marked ballot. At the end of the day, the election workers had to tally up those ballots by hand.
“We’d be up until midnight counting votes some elections,” Bobby said.
Later, the big box-style voting machines came along. Still later, the county adopted the electronic voting machines in use today.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Bobby said.
His pay for that first election was $8 a day. He earned $125 for the 12 hours he worked in the runoff.
For years and years, Asbury was the “most Democratic” beat in Marshall County. Long after most beats in the county had flipped to the Republican side, Asbury stayed Democratic. It was the last beat to start trending Republican.
Bobby is a lifelong Democrat and remains a Democrat.
Asbury has always been a very political place. They used to hold some campaign rallies that drew a crowd. Gov. George Wallace visited some of those rallies.
Bobby was involved in the rallies too, but on the periphery.
“Our church, Asbury Methodist, made a lot of money cooking and selling chicken at those rallies,” Bobby said.
His long service as a pollworker is just one aspect of Bobby’s interesting life. He was a high school dropout when his first wife Carol, a school teacher, suggested he go back to college.
“She got me notebooks, pencils and a lunchbox and I went back to school,” Bobby said. He was a veteran and he said he never would have been able to do it without the GI Bill and without Carol pushing him.
“She wouldn’t do my work for me,” She made me do it all myself,” he said.
He ended up going to Snead, then the University of Alabama and earning a degree in education. The high school dropout ended up teaching 5th grade at McCord Elementary in Albertville for 23 years. He would take days off from teaching to serve as a pollworker.
Carol is deceased now and Bobby married the former Rhe Strange. He had a house at Asbury. She had one at Martling. Instead of combining and just living in one house, they both kept their homes and they spend time at each one.
But Bobby said it’s not uncommon for her to get busy around the house in the daytime. When he needs to disappear for awhile, he has his own house to go to.
“Bobby Rice is just a wonderful example of someone who loves serving his community,” Judge LeCroy said. “He is a big part of the Asbury community and he has always been willing to do whatever he is asked.”
Judge LeCroy is always needing more pollworkers. Anyone interested in serving can call her office at 256-571-7764.