As bucket lists go, being a clerk at a polling station may seem a little strange. It was on my list of things to do, and it was free.
I've been voting for over 40 years and thought polling clerks looked like they are having a little fun, and doing their civic duty at the same time.
Getting up at 5 a.m. was my first sign that maybe I could find more fun things to do in my retirement.
But there we were, setting up signs outside a gated apartment complex. Who has a polling station inside a gated apartment complex?
The signs seemed too small and this was confirmed by a number of voters who voiced their displeasure with the difficulty in finding this station.
But they did find us and wow, if you hadn't noticed already, Antioch is one diverse community.
Other than the opportunity to vote, there was one universal thing that most people wanted and that was an "I Voted" sticker. Yep, young and old, regardless of race, all you had to do was offer and they most gladly accepted. There was a special pride in slapping that sticker on their chests. People were proud and happy that they had just voted. The voters had a great attitude and appreciation for their right to vote. It seemed that most knew this was something special and the stickers were a confirmation that they were a part of something special.
As the morning was coming to an end, I had my first reality check for the day. It hit me that I would need to be there until the polls closed. This was going to be a day that started and ended in the dark. Fortunately, the general public kept things interesting.
There was the young lady that literally bounced into the polling station and said she wanted to vote for Obama.
The problem was that she had never registered. It had never occurred to her that she would need to register to vote before she could actually be allowed to vote.
Fortunately, one of the more seasoned clerks suggested that she fill out a provisional ballot that would automatically register her to vote in the next election. And, she could also fill out a ballot, but it would not count. No problem, she went over to the other side and went for it.
A favorite was the middle-aged lady who walked up, submitted her name and calmly waited for us to find her name on the voting list. There was no need to ask questions of this woman because we knew she had it all together. After searching and not finding her name on any of the possible lists, we finally asked her when was the last time she voted. This well dressed lady of some means looked upward, paused for a moment and said, "God only knows." God, however, did not respond.
Another favorite was the older gentleman in the Korean War cap. His name was on the list, but when it came time for him to sign his name, he loudly proclaimed, "I can't see that." After more direction, he signed and received his ballot.
There were times when all the voting booths were full and those waiting to receive their ballots were lined up 8 to 10 deep. This is the only excuse I can give as to why we would give this elderly man a ballot to fill out when he couldn't see where to sign his name. Then in the middle of one our busier moments, there was another roar from the back of the station, "I can't see this!"
After my two hours of online training, I should have been more aware of this potential problem. Once again, the experienced clerks came to his rescue. There was a special computerized voting monitor with the entire ballot that included the option to increase the font size. We had five people working this station and thank goodness, I wasn't in charge.
There were four women and one man (me). Most people know that women are great workers and often have the patience and understanding of people that most men will never know they lacked.
The day wore on and I wanted to go home, but after texting my wife and asking her if I could come home, she told me to be a man, don't let those older women out-work you. I had to man-up and stay useful.
There was another, more disturbing trend that caught the veterans of our team off guard: So many people were listed as voting by mail. Some had simply failed to do so and planned to come in and vote. If you are listed as voting by mail but changed your mind, you need to present your absentee materials to the poll workers so they can be destroyed, and then you are given a ballot. If you don't have your vote by mail ballot information, you have to fill out a provisional ballot. Once confirmed that you did not vote by mail, your provisional ballot is accepted. All of this information is sent out to be confirmed by a higher authority.
Time for a comment: During the entire time I worked the polling station (14 hours), there was never any sign of anyone trying to do anything but comply with the rules of the game. The rumors about someone gaming the system have probably put more ideas in people's heads than ever existed before this imaginary problem became news.
It was surprising, though, how little identification was needed to vote. Most people came in offering it, but it was not required.
Of course it would help if the voters looked at their voter information and made sure they went to right polling place. But some people deserved a little slack.
I felt for the guy who had voted at the same place for many years but this year had to drive past his old station and come to ours. There were official complaint forms available and we gladly passed them out.
The top two issues were: "Why did I have to come over here?" and "Why am I listed as voting by mail?" The wise ones running the station were asking the same questions.
Enough of the real problems -- let's go back to talking about our Antioch citizens.
There was a young lady that seemed to be taking quite a while to vote and finally she came over to our table asking us to explain one of the initiatives.
We were about 10 hours into the day and I had forgotten some of my training, so I was about to suggest which way to vote on this particular initiative. The veterans once again took charge and directed the woman over to the California General Elections Guide.
Wow, why am I here if I can't influence at least one voter!
Some families arrived together so you could simply write them off the list at the same time.
I'm not sure if this is a standard thing, but we also celebrated each person that was voting for the first time. We shouted "New voter!", and most folks joined in with some sporadic applause.
Then came the capper of the day. A party of three rolled in and had a question. "Though we just arrived a few days ago from Florida, are we eligible to vote?"
My thought was to send them back to the end of the line and have them stand there for at least four hours and then come back and ask us that question again. Fortunately before I could show my other side, one of the veteran clerks told these folks NO!
Before you begin to think that I was not holding up my part of the bargain, I made a couple of positive suggestions. Like asking the maintenance people if they had extra lamps so we would be able to see once the sun went down. I also asked about the temperature in the room and was directed to the thermostat. And of course, I took care of my other responsibilities. Maybe I did not keep pace with the veterans, but I was useful.
Bottom line: those folks at the polling station are doing a civic duty for very little pay.
My real reward was seeing the enthusiasm that the folks in Antioch brought to our polling stations.
If you don't like the results of the last election, thank God that in the U.S.A. you have an opportunity to influence the next one.
Tony Daniels is a resident of Antioch.