LAWTON — When the key didn't work Monday at the corner church where Ann Tubbs had overseen elections for years, it didn't take long for her to determine the next best thing.
On Tuesday — election day — with scattered snow falling throughout the day, the 71-year-old let her neighbors in Precinct 33 instead pick their school board candidate of choice in the foyer right inside the front door of her home on SE Camelot.
The living room precinct was a callback to another day, when instead of churches, schools and other public buildings, voters marked their ballots from within their neighbors' homes.
“It was really quite convenient, actually, and the people were most thoughtful — they wiped their feet,” said Tubbs, who is retired from the real estate business. “It was raining, kind of snowy, and so they didn't want to track in, but I have tiles so it's not hard to clean up at all.”
The decision to move the precinct from the corner church to Tubbs' home, just a couple hundred feet down the block, came late Monday after both Tubbs and the secretary for the Comanche County Election Board, Monica Baughman, could neither gain access to the church nor get ahold of the new owners.
Baughman spent most that afternoon calling each of the voters who voted there during the November general election — just fewer than 300 in all — and the two posted signs Tuesday morning that directed voters to Tubbs' home.
“She happens to live on a corner with a circular drive,” Baughman said. “To be at a house, it couldn't have been any better.”
They set up a long table in the foyer where voters could check in and receive their ballot. Instead of checking off boxes in a voting booth, they laid their ballot on the back of her grand piano. The electronic machine where ballots are filed and counted stood in a corner on the floor.
It helped that Tuesday's elections brought a low voter turnout. Of the 300 who voted in Precinct 33 last November, only nine showed up Tuesday — and three of those were Tubbs, her husband, Gary, and their granddaughter.
“We know so many of the people and so, no, it really wasn't strange at all having them come in,” Tubbs said. “One lady said, ‘Wow, I've never voted on a grand piano before.”
Tubbs has been working elections in Comanche County for 29 years, most recently as inspector for Precinct 33. She also volunteers at a local hospital.
Tuesday's election day was the most interesting one she's experienced, she said, and not because of the voting. With snow falling outside, she and the precinct's election judge, Doris Recer-Ensley, watched television during the long lulls in voting.
“I had recorded Hallmark Christmas movies and we watched those all day,” Tubbs said.
The living room precinct in Lawton on Tuesday was not the only one in the state, but it's certainly a tradition that has gone by the wayside in past decades, said Paul Ziriax, secretary of the state Election Board.
The board does not track polling places by “type,” but Ziriax said he is aware of at least one other, in Kingfisher County.
“They tend to be in more rural precincts where there are no private businesses or churches or schools that are willing to allow their location to be used for a precinct or a polling place,” he said.
Phased out in the '70s
Lee Slater, the state's Election Board secretary from 1971-88, said most living room precincts were phased out during the 1970s as election officials looked to centralize polling places in public buildings.
In 1981, he said, the board consolidated some of the smaller precincts, reducing the total number from 3,000 to about 2,000.
“They were phased out, among other reasons, because people don't like folks like you and me tromping through their house with muddy feet, cussing and screaming,” said Slater, currently the executive director for the state Ethics Commission. “It's a big sacrifice to turn over your house. I don't want to use my house for a polling place.”
Baughman said the last living room polling site in Comanche County closed about 16 years ago. She said her office did not receive any complaints Tuesday about the sudden site relocation at Precinct 33.