For the past 18 years, if there was an election in Forsyth County, Janis Thomas was there to monitor it.
Thomas, a fifth-generation Forsyth resident, helped supervise 53 elections during her tenure on the county’s board of elections.
She served longer than any other board member before deciding to step down about two months ago.
“I’ve worked with some really good people and I really, really enjoyed it. I liked every [part] about it,” Thomas said. “I felt like I had served long enough.
“I felt really good about what we have done in the office and I’ve always felt we’ve had honest and fair elections. I wasn’t tired, I just thought it was time.”
Though Forsyth does not have an election Tuesday — many municipalities statewide do — it will mark the first time since 1990 that Thomas hasn’t been on the board.
Her replacement, Matt Blender, has said the non-election year should aid the transition.
Thomas has always been involved in politics. Her uncle was a sheriff and two of her cousins served as state representatives. She even made her own bid for office, running for probate court judge.
To run, Thomas had to give up her position as voter registrar for the county. Though she didn’t become probate judge, she was quickly appointed to the elections board as the Democratic Party representative.
Back then, she said, Forsyth Democrats were the majority.
“The pendulum has swung over to the Republicans,” she said. “It was just that a lot of people moved in and they were a stronger party. They were more active and they got people swayed to the Republican side.”
Thomas said politics never really played a role on the board, which consists of a chairman and two members representing the major parties.
According to Thomas, elections in the county have completely changed since she began. While records are mostly digital now, Thomas can remember creating documents on a typewriter.
Though she said electronic voting is the only way to count all of Forsyth’s ballots in a timely manner, she is nostalgic for the long nights of counting every vote by hand.
“People would stand around outside the door and when you would get a tally sheet, you’d go put it up on the bulletin board and they would crowd around to see who was leading,” she said.
“There was always a big crowd at the courthouse on election night and now you don’t see that anymore because you can come on the Internet and get the results. I miss the old way.”
Each Election Day, Thomas said she would visit every precinct. Not because it was a job requirement, but because she was friends with many of the poll workers.
“I would visit ... and see if they needed anything,” she said. “I brought milkshakes to different poll workers.”
In 1973, the county’s courthouse was destroyed by fire, destroying nearly all the documents inside.
“We tried to salvage what we could,” Thomas said. “We asked people to come in and fill out a form and we would staple the old form that was burned around the edges to their new form.”
There were a few years between the destruction of the first courthouse and the building of its replacement. In the interim, Thomas said the lawn was filled with trailers acting as offices.
“We were in one near Goodson Drugs,” she said. “We shared part of a mobile home on the lawn and that’s where we kept our [registration] cards ... until we got a new courthouse.”
Over the years, many board members came and went. With all the fresh faces, Thomas’ experience made her the go-to person for rules and regulations.
State Rep. Tom Knox, who served on the board for the better part of the 1990s, said Thomas’ knowledge will be missed.
“She was a very capable, dedicated and knowledgeable person on that board,” Knox said. “Even though she was a Democrat and I was a Republican, we got along great. We became good friends.
“We had respect for each other and how we did business on the board. I consider it an honor to have served with her.”
Brant Meadows, the current Republican representative on the board, has served with Thomas since 2002.
“She is a part of the fabric and the life of this county,” he said. “She served with style and grace like a true Southern lady.”
Thomas, who married high school sweetheart Bill 54 years ago, has three children and six grandchildren.
All three of her daughters went off to college, got married and settled in Forsyth County. It’s Thomas’ family history and love of Forsyth that have made her so dedicated to its success.
“It’s just home. I was born and raised here, and I’m going to die here,” she said. “I love Forsyth County and I will always try to make it better.”