If there is one thing that defined the late Laura Wooten, it was her unwavering dedication to the election process in her community and in the United States.
For 79 years, until her death in March, Wooten sat behind the voter check-in table as a poll worker – first at the polling place in Princeton, where she grew up, and then for the last 30 years at the polling place at the Lawrence Road firehouse in Lawrence.
Wooten had the distinction of being the longest serving poll worker in the United States. She never missed an election – for the school board, the political primaries or the general election.
To honor Wooten’s service, Mayor Christopher Bobbitt and the Lawrence Township Council presented her son, Paul Wooten, and her granddaughter, Adrienne Hill, with a special proclamation at the council’s June 18 meeting. June is political primary election month.
“Democratic service is essential to the well-being of not only our community, but to the country and all of society. Democratic service presents itself in a variety of avenues to meet the needs of our township and cannot be measured in monetary value,” the proclamation said.
“Those individuals who perform these services for the good of all should be recognized for their unselfish contributions to the citizens of our nation. One such individual is Laura Wooten, who overcame sexism and racism all while embodying the ideals of democracy in action,” the proclamation read.
Accepting the proclamation, Hill said her grandmother was an amazing woman and not an ordinary 98-year-old. She was dedicated to being a poll worker. When she missed her ride to the Lawrence Road firehouse polling place on Election Day many years ago, she walked from her home on Drift Avenue to the firehouse on Lawrence Road.
Wooten started as a poll worker in the former Princeton Borough in 1939. A self-described “people person,” she said in a 2016 interview in The Princeton Packet that she enjoys being around people and that’s one of the reasons that she had continued to work at the polls – first in Princeton and then in Lawrence, after she moved to the township.
Wooten’s uncle, Anderson Mitnaul, was responsible for her decision to become a poll worker. He was running for the office of justice of the peace in Princeton, and talked her into becoming a challenger at the polls. A challenger makes sure that a citizen is eligible to vote and checks off that person’s name in a book that lists registered voters.
Back in the day, she said in the 2016 interview, everyone voted. But now, hardly anyone bothers to vote. The turnout for the political party primaries is especially low and that’s a shame, she said, because so many people are registered to vote.
Wooten would encourage people to vote because it is necessary, and they have the right to vote. Every vote counts, she said, and people should not complain that nothing gets done if they have not exercised their right to vote.
“My grandmother did not intend to become a celebrity,” Hill said, recalling the many times that Wooten was interviewed for her longevity as a poll worker.
“My grandmother just walked off 14 Witherspoon Lane (in Princeton) and into history,” Hill said.