Clay County precinct election official Linda Bryan

Clay County precinct election official Linda Bryan poses with an old voting machine that is now a part of the Logan Township Museum. The former schoolhouse was last used as a polling place in 2004, when the precinct was merged with Gillett Grove.

Russ Oechslin

SPENCER, Iowa | Electronic voting machines and a smaller rural population have led to many Election Day changes in Iowa's rural areas, and Linda Bryan has experienced them all.

The precinct election official began her Election Day career about 30 years ago. On Tuesday, Bryan will be at the Clay County Regional Events Center in Spencer, overseeing 4th Ward voting.

Before moving to Spencer, Bryan was an official in Logan Township, where she remembers “the old mechanical voting machines that were such a pain to work, especially after the election and we wanted to get home.”

“We also had to keep the fire burning in the stove, and we smelled like smoke when we left,” she said.

As Logan Township trustee, Bryan’s election day duties began the day before each Election Day with a thorough cleaning of the one-room schoolhouse  listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Poll workers swept the floors, made sure the temporary electricity and phone lines were working and stoked the wood-burning stove for heat.

Then, Bryan said, she had to check the outhouse.

“Being a farm wife, that wasn’t a problem for me," Bryan said. "But people from the city might have a hard time with that.”

There will be none of that at the Events Center.

Fellow election official Helen Swanson, who with her four daughters published the inch-thick Logan Township “Little History…” in 2010, said the old mechanical voting machines in Logan were problematic.

Write-in votes, she said, caused considerable extra work for the officials. That’s why she was surprised years later to find that her son Paul cast a write-in vote for Mickey Mouse the first time he voted.

When it came time to vacate the old Logan Township polling place, the hand-crank machine was left behind. But some of the charms of rural voting remain.

Coffee, sandwiches and a light supper will be provided Tuesday for officials who will work for 15 hours without a break at the Clay County Events Center. The meal will continue a long tradition.

“We decided what we were going to have and everybody brought something,” fellow poll worker Barb Salton said of past Election Day feasts. The meals included casseroles and sometimes crock-pot meals -- until they found out that a crock pot would cause a fuse to blow and shut down the newer, computerized equipment.

In addition to the pot-luck meals, the veteran poll workers will miss the communal feeling that elections brought. Voters would come to the polling in tractors and combines, parking them outside the school.

“Some of them came in from chores and we had to kind of air-out the place for a little bit,” Bryan said. “But it was fun. Families would come and bring all their kids with them. The kids ‘voted,’ too, using the smaller sample ballot machine.”

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