League presents ‘Making Democracy Work’ award

Douglas describes rewards, challenges of being county clerk


Karyn Douglas has long deserved the “Making Democracy Work” award, which the League of Women Voters bestowed upon her during the annual meeting on May 14. Douglas worked in the Montgomery County Clerk’s office for 17 years with the last seven as the county clerk.

Douglas started her job in Montgomery County the day before the November election in 2007 when there were 27 precincts, so she showed up at the courthouse at five in the morning.

“Here’s how you log in. Here’s show you do a voter search,” Jennifer (Bentley) Pursell showed her. She took a paper with the location of each precinct’s voting site on it and a list of people she could call. That was her training.

Douglas grew up in California, “The total opposite when it comes to Midwest political thinking,” she said during her acceptance remarks. But she grew up in a bi-partisan home.

“My dad’s from the Midwest. He’s very Republican. He had a woodshop in the back yard and a Ronald Reagan poster on the inside. My mother and I were raised Catholic, which of course, that’s JFK territory. She was a Democrat. They always said, ‘We’re going to go vote and we’re going to cancel each other out.’ My parents both always voted, and to this day, they never miss an election. And back then we would vote in neighbors’ garages and poll workers were stationed in the driveways. My mom and my dad were very big on privacy for voting. So we couldn’t stand there, but we could sit down at their feet and wait on them. When we were done, we got so excited because my brother and I each got to take one of their ballots and put it in a cardboard box.”

As much as she loved those moments, she didn’t foresee going into public office or working in government. Her high school government class fell in first period and she was always running behind, so she missed a lot of that class. Her teacher, a first-year instructor, made the class write letters to the selves they’d be in 10 years.

“There I was writing the letter saying, ‘this is really stupid. Why is she making me do this?’ Yet I finished the letter. That woman mailed the letter to my father 10 years later — I’d already moved here to Indiana. I am not sure if she’s still living, but I really wish I could say to her now, ‘OK, you had a kid who didn’t even care the least about government. Why do I need to know this stuff about running for an election? But here I am in that position and loving every minute of running at the clerk’s office.”

Douglas’ job as clerk was to help everyone get what they needed.

“As the deputy, I needed to always be on top of anything election-related or the election for the voters would not be correct or accurate. As the clerk, if the job was not done correctly, it could have affected the judicial system within the county. If you are a person who works for the public, their needs as relates to your job should be taken seriously.”

Douglas had to run for the office and in turn encouraged other citizens to run. She also supported their efforts.

“It is one of the most stressful and exhausting things that a person can do, mentally. All of the information about how to run is public but some people do not know where to find this info. Some people do not know which offices at the state level are over our elections or what info they have available. It is the job of the clerk and the staff to explain where to find this out.”

Douglas said the job has been the most rewarding and the most challenging at the same time.

“You deal with all kinds of people with all kinds of viewpoints,” she said. “You’re never going to find two people, not even a husband or a wife, who are going to agree 100% on religion and politics. They just need to agree to disagree. People will be passionate about whatever they want. As long as they’re educated about what they believe in.”

Douglas admitted it was quite a change, waking up on the day after the election not being privy to the results. For the first time in 17 years, she had to turn to the internet.

Douglas is now city clerk-treasurer, a very different role that entails more on the accounting side of government. On primary Tuesday she couldn’t help showing up to help do whatever grunt work was needed.

Anyone who worked with Douglas knew her to be efficient, accessible and transparent. The three months leading up to elections, but particularly the final days, required her to spend long hours at the clerk’s office, arriving early to open voting sites and staying late to supervise counting and tallies. It’s a little-known reality that Indiana legislation prohibits counting any ballots until after the polls open at 6 a.m. on voting day. All the early votes waited to be counted with ballots cast the day of the election.

Douglas ran a smooth, well-oiled machine, and she worked hard to ensure that those who wanted to cast a ballot would be able to do so. Only in 2020, a year of high voter turnout, with a number of mail-in ballots, did she work well into the night. She even had her family as well as family members of the staff came into the office to help slice open envelopes.

“I am passionate about voting in general,” said Douglas.

For years, she worked closely with Myra Dunn Abbott, head of Montgomery County’s LWV Voter Services. Dunn Abbott and her husband have long served as stalwart powerhouses in voter outreach. For years, they helped residents register, or re-register if they’d been cleaned off the rolls, but a large number of county residents registered to vote failed to show up and cast a ballot, even though it only takes five minutes of their time, and even though they can vote early on their own schedule, or, if they qualify, from home.

“Finally, I told Myra, quit trying to register these people to vote. We got to get them to show up. And that’s what started she has started to push the voter cards. They started the count sheet on the front of the courthouse where it said this is the percentage of people who had come in.”

People noticed. It gamified voting, making it a challenge to be one of the people who showed up. After decades where fewer than 50% of registered voters made it to the polls, in 2020, the county’s turnout broke records at 69%.

“I’m grateful because it’s a lot of work,” Douglas said. “It is not one day. It’s three months per election.”

Often Dunn Abbott and her husband Paul came to the clerk’s office early or late, obtained that day’s tally and posted it on the banner outside.

Douglas has long told her daughter that one of the most important responsibilities of being an American is voting.

“I have told her that it is her job to vote. Do your research and choose the best person you think to do the job. I will not tell her how to vote other that she just needs to vote. And that’s all you can do. Tell other people to do their research on who they think is best person for the job.”

“We’ve been given this opportunity to vote. So let’s go ahead and do it.”


The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.