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Poll Workers Elect to Share Laughs and Shun Political Talk

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jerry Rose of Ventura quips that his Election Day job is “no politics, just jokes.”

That’s because politics was a forbidden topic for Rose and hundreds of others who manned the polls across Ventura County on Tuesday.

Rose, who regularly toils for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, supervised the voting at a polling station set up in the Todd Ranch II recreation room in Ventura.

As an elections inspector, Rose supervised two clerks and all the paperwork associated with hundreds of votes.

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“It’s just kind of routine,” he said, drawing on experience accrued in five previous elections.

To pass the time during an off-year election with low voter turnout, Rose and his clerks told jokes.

“I’ve really learned to crack the whip and keep those volunteers in line,” he boasted with a mischievous smile.

More than 200 people in Ventura County worked as clerks and inspectors for the Elections Commission on Tuesday, substantially fewer than the number that will handle the presidential primaries in March or the election next November.

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One earns the title of inspector by “putting in your dues as a clerk and expressing a willingness to serve,” said Bobbie Rickard, who supervises the recruitment and assignment of election officers in Ventura County. An inspector is ultimately responsible for the integrity of the votes from the polling station.

Inspectors make $63 and clerks earn $50 for the day, which volunteers say lasts from about 6:30 a.m. until after 9 p.m. They can earn an additional $5 by attending a class on working at polling stations, Rickard said.

However, some inspectors and clerks voluntarily pass on any payment, saying they serve out of civic pride.

In Ventura’s Fire Station No. 1, clerk Donna Atmore and inspector Gene Simmons came prepared for a slow day.

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Simmons worked his eighth election, and Atmore joked that she is “new” because Tuesday marked only her third. Although a steady line of customers crawled past them, both remembered much busier elections.

“It’s fun. I enjoy meeting with people and talking,” said Atmore, who donates her time during elections.

Atmore had hopes of productivity between voters. In a bag, she carried a book to read, a second book of puzzles and the beginnings of a red, white and green afghan.

Simmons brought along a Reader’s Digest, but he said the best way to pass the time is talking.

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“We can’t discuss politics, though,” he said. “We discuss everything, just not politics--and sex.”

Some clerks came dressed for the occasion. At Todd Ranch II, clerk John Gleesonsported a red, white and blue baseball cap.

Farther east in Camarillo, Sue Rastatter’s sweater mirrored the American flag.

“I just like to wear red, white and blue,” said Rastatter, who worked at a polling station on Camarillo Springs Road.

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But Linda Davidson, one of Rastatter’s fellow clerks, said she worked to serve her community. “I take the day off to do this,” she said.

Larry Canan and Roy Short performed their polling duties with a little more competition than most--operating out of the “all-purpose room” at Las Posas School in Camarillo.

The pair worked as the noise from the school’s pep squad practice--carried out to the tune of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire"--issued forth through a temporary wall.

“It’s actually a pretty good location for our precinct,” Canan said. “The pits, well, let’s just say it was in Thousand Oaks. It was the back room off a nail parlor. It wasn’t even a full-fledged beauty parlor.

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“We had no lights, which was OK during the day but we stayed open until 8 p.m.,” he said.

Just after Canan pronounced his new environment satisfactory, a gust of wind knocked the American flag hanging outside to the ground.

“This is the most excitement we’ve had all day,” Short said.

In Ojai, 19-year-old Jana Mariana was learning the ropes at a polling spot called Grey Gables from Louise Downard and Dolores Torres, who have each lost count of the number of elections they have proctored.

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“I was registering and there was a thing at the bottom of the box to check,” Mariana said. “I guess I was in a strange mood so I did.

“I missed my first election so I’m making up for it,” she added.

Downard said Mariana was being “broken in gently” because of the low turnout for the election which, in Ojai, featured only one issue.

“If this was a presidential primary,” Downard joked, “we might never see her again.”

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