Recent elections have been eye-glazing, shoe-gazing affairs for Palo Alto's poll workers -- occasions for pleasure reading, quiet rumination and playful banter with the rare voter.
But with the presidential race and a slew of local candidates and state propositions on the ballot, poll workers are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory Tuesday afternoon. Their precincts are buzzing, and they're having fun.
"We've had constant lines," said Marilyn Barker, a precinct inspector at the Trinity Lutheran Church on Middlefield Road, where about a dozen voters were filling out their ballots at noon. "It's a great turnout. I'm very happy that people have come out to vote."
Another poll worker at Trinity said there have been lines of up to 20 people waiting to vote. The line cleared up fairly quickly only to form again five minutes later, when 20 new people showed up. She referred to an earlier Election Day for which she volunteered and in which she had spent most of the day reading a book. Not this time, she said.
Other precincts reported a similar level of activity. While in 2010, precincts typically experienced between 30 and 50 voters coming in to fill out their ballots by late afternoon, on Tuesday all five of the precincts the Weekly had visited reported more than 100 residents casting their ballots well before noon. About as many came in just to drop off mail-in ballots that have already been filled out, said Bert Laurence, an election clerk at the Walter Hays Elementary School precinct.
While most polling stations resembled ghost towns during the June primaries, on Tuesday, voters have been trickling in steadily throughout the early part of the day, Laurence said. At one point in the morning, all six of the stations in the precinct were occupied. One voter filled his ballot out while standing in a corner, while another one occupied the piano near the precinct's far wall.
"We've had to use every corner we have," said Barbara Bowden, precinct inspector at Walter Hays. "People have been coming in by the flockfuls."
John Boles, an election inspector at Crossroads Community Church on Middlefield near Oregon Expressway, saw 104 voters fill out their ballots by 11:30 a.m. When the precinct opened at 7 a.m., four people were standing in line, he said. The foot traffic has been "very, very steady," he said.
"We haven't been without a voter for the past six hours," said John Haynes, a poll volunteer at First Lutheran Church on Homer Avenue. He noted that between 7 and 8 a.m., every voting booth at the precinct was occupied.
Among the busiest precincts on Tuesday was Channing House, where 200 people had voted by 12:15 p.m. Each booth was occupied during the lunch hour, and a small line had formed near the table where poll workers greeted voters. When asked if it's been like this all day, one poll worker smiled, nodded and said: "'Til 8 p.m."
Election officials had different explanations for why the turnout was so heavy, though most agreed the presidential election probably has a lot to do with it. Bowden had another theory.
"I suspect the voter turnout is directly related to the advertising money spent during the campaign," she said.
This is also the first year that the election of local representatives -- Palo Alto City Council and Board of Education -- has been aligned with the national election. The city switched its elections from odd to even years in 2010, when voters approved Measure E.
Palo Alto voters are also considering a measure that would allow three marijuana dispensaries to open shop in the city and a slew of statewide propositions, including Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax measure, the repeal of the death penalty and revisions to the state's three-strike law.
Polls will be open until 8 p.m.