GUSTINE - Voters going to the polls in Gustine have been greeted by Laurie Kidder for 40-some years.
Last Tuesday, though, was Kidder’s final day as a polling place worker, she told Mattos Newspapers.
She had turned the role of precinct inspector over to Kris Nagle after the previous election, Kidder told Mattos Newspapers, and was on hand for the Nov. 6 polling only because an extra hand was needed.
“I said that if they really needed me I would help,” said Kidder.
She started as a poll worker around 1975, Kidder related.
She eventually became precinct inspector, Kidder said, a position she held for many years.
Kidder said that she unexpectedly received a letter from Merced telling her that she had been named precinct inspector. She went to the inspector, Loy Lehfeldt, and told her that she didn’t want to take the job from her.
“She told me that she had retired and given it to me,” Kidder related.
And so she became an inspector, for more years than she can remember.
Kidder said she doesn’t know exactly how many elections she worked through the years.
“I never thought of keeping track,” she reflected. “I didn’t think that at my age I would still be working.”
As inspector, she was responsible for attending pre-election meetings, making sure the hall was open and ready to go, assisting voters and poll workers alike as needed and then shutting things down at the end of a very long day.
She has seen numerous changes in elections.
When Kidder started, she said, the old-style voting machines, complete with curtains and levers, were used.
At that time, she noted, ballots were tallied on the site before being picked up by deputies, and the results were posted on the door.
The voting technology has changed through the years - with some trends more lasting than others.
A touchscreen system was used in one election, Kidder recalled.
“Nobody liked it,” she said.
One thing that hasn’t changed through the years is the practice of having a sheriff’s deputy collect the ballots and take them to Merced for processing.
“One year they didn’t come, and I had to take the ballots home,” Kidder told Mattos Newspapers. “You think that wasn’t scary? At 8 o’clock the next morning I was headed for Merced.”
Kidder had a loyal crew of regulars who worked at the poll with her.....and greeted generations of voters at the polls.
Some were established, loyal voters who would turn out like clockwork on election day. Others were new to the community, while still others were new voters coming of age to cast their ballots.
One trend that has emerged through the years is the growing use of absentee ballots, which were a rarity when Kidder started.
Almost everybody, she said, voted in person.
“Everybody enjoyed coming in to visit and casting their ballots,” she explained.
Every election day had its own flow, Kidder reflected, with turnout ranging from heavy to sparse.
“Trump’s election was a really, really busy day,” she said. “The one right after that, we had 35 or 36 people show up.”
The pay for her service provided some pocket money that helped with things like Christmas gifts for grandchildren, Kidder commented, but what she most enjoyed was simply being around the people.
“People were nice,” she said. “We had good workers, and I enjoyed meeting people from one election to the next.”
Barbara Levey, Merced County registrar of voters, expressed her appreciation to the long-time poll worker.
“Over the years we have been very fortunate to have poll workers like Laurie Kidder, who have been long committed to the voting process and to working with us on Election Day,” Levey commented. “It is inspiring to have such dedicated people in our community.”