'It says here that you've got a postal vote' I say to the man offering me his polling card. 'Oh yes, I've used it' he smiles back at me. I explain gently that you can't vote twice, and he says 'oh right then, that's absolutely fine', keen to show me he's not offended.
By this time I'm 6 hours in to a 16 hour shift as a poll clerk, a job I was offered a couple of weeks ago for the princely remuneration of £200 for the day. It's a fascinating experience. From the beginning, during training, it becomes clear that the whole operation is run by amateurs. The room in which we train is full of middle aged women, wittering because they've changed the voting process slightly since the last time they did it, and men from the civic centre trying very hard to make the process amusing (and largely failing, I'm afraid). Actually it's all very easy, scare stories of overcrowded polling stations and spoiled ballot papers dissolving quickly on the day into routine and eye watering boredom.
We arrive at 6am at the school where our polling station is to be. The presiding officer, a pedantic council employee, and my fellow poll clerk a woman who has poll clerked before 'thousands of times', who knows everyone and supplies a stream of local gossip.
Setting up, there's a momentous feeling of being part of something bigger. In our first hour, we get 1 voter. Predictions issued by the council expect that we should get 35. This pattern continues, while the school opens around us and curious pupils stare in at the windows of the hall. As a result, each voter gets lots of attention, poll clerks falling over themselves to thank people, the presiding officer directing them how to put their votes in the box - a big issue, with nearly every voter having to be told not to fold the ballot papers.
The eccentrics start coming around mid afternoon, sweet old people who tell you the story of their lives, a man who announces 'I voted Labour. Is that right?' Most people don't know about the assembly elections, don't care much either. Lots of people ask if they have to use their second preference on the mayoral ballot, or if they can vote twice for the same person.
It's amazing how many women let their husbands 'advise' them on who to vote for. At one point, a woman is surrounded by at least 3 men, all offering guidance. The presiding officer has to step in. A man comes in with his wife's poll card and asks if he can use it, I explain that she has to vote in person. He accepts, but says 'she's my wife; I should be able to vote for her'. One woman asks me to check whether her neighbour has voted. On hearing that she hasn't, she dashes off, saying 'I always have trouble with them'. They don't appear.
It begins to occur to me that these people are completely untouched by Westminster politics. These are the people that the three man parties don't even know exist, and they don't care. I've always found it difficult to believe the story that so many people wouldn't recognise David Cameron if shown a picture of him, but among these voters, I suspect it could be true. Grandstanding in Parliament seems very far away. My fellow poll clerk tells me she's had to freeze her pension contributions, and about a friend, long term unemployed. Over and over again we get the 'who are these people?' look upon giving out the three ballot papers.
If, as it appears, Boris has won the mayoral election again, it will be a vote for apathy and boredom, not for him. At the end of the day we've had 301 voters, a turnout of 25%. On the contrary, people working for the council, candidates and political parties care a great deal, are disappointed in the turnout, but still fail to quite get the message across, fail to engage. At the end of the day my friend tweets at me, 'someone on my course genuinely asked 'what elections?' today'. That says it all.
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