At the annual meeting of the representatives from county voter registration and election offices from around the State, Conway Belangia, the Greenville County Director of Voter Registration and Elections was awarded that organization’s highest award presented by peers.
The Moore Award is presented to the member that best exemplifies the spirit of this organization through their continued unselfish giving of time and effort to make the South Carolina Association of Registration and Election Officials (SCARE) a more educated, concerned group that promotes training and educating individuals, as well as county and state officials in voter registration and election administration.
The organization has been in existence since 1975 and has been presenting The Moore Award since 1992, in honor of Betty and Marsha Moore of Spartanburg. Former Congresswoman Liz Patterson assisted in the creation of the award in 1992 as a way to recognize exemplary service to the voter registration and election community. Conway Belangia has served in different capacities of the election process for over three decades. He has served as Director in Greenville County for over 26 years, and in a related ‘election connected’ capacity for 14 more years; a true civil servant. He has been a member of SCARE since 1985, serving on various committees (some as Chairman), and serving in officer positions, including Treasurer, Vice President and President, all of this with pride and professionalism. He has been faithful to the leadership of the organization by active participation through the years. He is proud of being a part of the “team of statewide election officials”. More importantly Conway’s life mantra is that he loves GOD and Jesus Christ, loves his wife and family, loves this Country, State, and County, just as he loves each and every one of God’s children.
*Editor’s note: After we received this press release we thought it would be appropriate to interview Conway and give him an opportunity to share more details of his 25 years in service to Greenville County.
Q.: Can you recall any interesting episodes that occurred during elections that you were able to investigate and reach a positive solution?
A.:In Barrack Obama’s first election, we all learned about the term “early voting”. While that is NOT an approved way to cast a ballot in South Carolina, the Obama campaign was promoting its use in our State’s absentee voting process. The day that “early voting” started in Georgia and North Carolina, our “in person” absentee voting went from a 30 minute wait to a two-plus hour wait. In the next few days, the line for voting “absentee” got even longer. Some politicians visited my office to complain about the long lines to which I replied, “If I were to stop the early voting that is being done under the guise of absentee voting, I could reduce the line by three-fourths in an instant. I also acknowledged that IF I were to do that, I would probably lose my job and get “run out of town on a rail”. They worked with me to provide a solution to the problem instead of complaining about it. Mission accomplished!
Q. How many staff do you currently have under your supervision?
A.: Currently this office operates with seven full time staff, six long term part-time staff, adding three to five part time staff well ahead of elections, then, adding another twelve to twenty near the election. We will employee anywhere between 400 to 1200 poll workers who must be trained for every major election. This process puts this office into the role of ‘stretching the dollar’ as there is never enough put into the State budget to pay all the normal election expenses. The County of Greenville and County Council have been wonderful to work with over the 25 years I have been Director in Greenville, stepping up to allow Greenville County to conduct elections without having to short change the voters who have a standard for all election workers and polling places. Every voter wants to vote quickly and painlessly.
Q.: How are voter registration changes impacting your mission? Is funding being provided for these additional chores that your department may have to implement?
A.: Wow, to think that 25 years ago, every voter had to visit the Voter Registration office OR the Greenville Library system in order to get registered. On the last day to register to vote, we would have lines outside of County Square over three hours long to meet the deadline. Now, with Motor Voter and Mail-in-Registration, this office does NOT experience the long lines anymore. Our registration has gone from 144,000 to over 320,000, over double the number of voters in 25 years. All these citizens are attempting to participate in the greatest system in the world, the election system of the United States of America.
Q.: How long have you served in this position?
A.: Having just celebrated the anniversary of 26 years on the job in Greenville, I am proud to call this County “home”. But, my low country roots are still there…“Santee Swamp mud between my toes” (only in my imagination).
Q.: Generally, what is your education background and professional training?
A.: I received a B.S. degree in Business Administration with concentration in Management from the University of South Carolina, a proud Gamecock. Practical experience with reapportionment, census information processing, and precinct development laid the groundwork for my working in elections. On the elections side, I spent 6 years with the State Election Commission, two years as Director of Voter Registration and Elections in Orangeburg County, and now the last 26 years here in Greenville County. I have been blessed beyond my dreams with a great situation here in Greenville County.
Q.: Would you like to share some information about your family and your dedication to your church?
A.: I am happily married to a wonderful woman, Deedie Phillips Belangia. We were blessed with two wonderful sons. Now, we are blessed with a wonderful son and grandson. Our oldest son died unexpectedly this past December, but he had blessed us with his son, my grandson. Our youngest son, Joseph, was just selected to be a member of the staff of Major League Baseball as an Umpire. His path will start in the minor leagues (just like players) and he intends to make it to the Major Leagues in a few years. Church is very important to my family and we are active members at Mauldin United Methodist Church. Previously, we were involved in an inter-faith organization called Walk to Emmaus. Our service has been reduced to the illness of my wife over the last seven or so years to a lung condition that limits her ability to work and serve. But, again, I will say, we are blessed in so many ways with so many friends. I also officiate for local high school sports as a baseball umpire and some high school football.
Q.: Talk just a little about training poll workers and challenges occurring with each election.
A.: In elections, poll workers are the life-blood of what we do. Poll workers who are dedicated and serve the public by conducting good, clean elections, are what keeps Greenville County the top County in the State when the conduct of elections is reviewed Statewide and over the long haul. These dedicated individuals are paid at minimum wage (and less when we have run-off elections), yet, they come out and come back election after election. These poll workers must be trained in order for elections to happen without many problems. To train and educate over 1200 workers for a major General Election is a huge task. We cannot cover all that needs to be covered in a three hour training class. We can’t require longer hours for training without an increase in pay: therefore, we depend on our experienced workers to teach “on the job”. The ‘conduct of elections’ has become more complicated and much more stressful over the years. I do NOT know what we would do in Greenville County without those 400 to 500 very dedicated returning poll workers. We usually have over 500 new poll workers assisting in elections, mostly without any problem or screw-up. High School students are included in this process. 16 and 17 year old students can be poll workers and provide us with a great advantage and a great experience for them of seeing the election system “up close and personal” before they reach the age of being able to cast their first ballot. Again, I am blessed to be here in Greenville County, a great place to work and live.
In addition, here are comments from two long time colleagues; Bill Keener of Simpsonville, a long time poll worker and manager noted, “During every election each and every challenge that comes up, and there are quite a few each time, Conway has always been so levelheaded and efficient in solving those challenges. I’ve always been proud of the way he has handled each situation”.
Jerry Barron, Commissioner, Greenville County Board of Voter Registration and Elections added these comments:
”I’ve had the privilege to serve Greenville County as an election official alongside Conway Belangia for many years. It is indeed a privilege to serve in this capacity with Conway because he exhibits a professional, kind, and courteous attitude and most of all he maintains high ethical standards while facilitating the election process on behalf of the voters and candidates in our county and state. I am so pleased he received this award – it is well deserved”.♦