'An old lady came in wanting to vote for Winston Churchill'

You meet all sorts as an election poll clerk. You can earn nearly £200 as well
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Gordon Brown's decision not to hold a general election didn't just blow up in the face of the Government or help end Sir Menzies Campbell's leadership of the Liberal Democrats – it also disappointed thousands of people across the UK who wanted work as poll clerks. For them, an election brings some welcome cash for just one day's labour.

Anyone can be a poll clerk. Many already work for local government, or are ex-local government, but you don't have to be connected in any way to do the job. The only legal requirement is that you have to be a British citizen and of voting age.

Getting work is simply a question of writing to your local authority and saying you're interested. A full list of councils and their contact details are available at www.cita. co.uk/councils.html. If an authority has vacancies for staff, it will send out a form to fill in and this will be filed until an election comes up. Some councils do advertise for poll clerks in local papers in the run-up to an election but most rely on their staff list.

Stephanie Johnson, 67, has worked as a poll clerk in north-east London since 1960. "It's an easy and interesting job. I don't get bored as I get to meet lots of people from the community. The hours are very long, though, and when I had kids it was too hard to work a full day," she says.

Poll clerks are sworn in 24 hours before an election and then have to start at six on the morning of the election and work until at least nine in the evening. The pay is good, though, even for such a long day. Generally, they are paid a one-off fee of £187 and some get extra for travel and lunch.

There are usually at least two poll clerks at every station. One ticks off the names of the voters on the list, while the other prepares the forms and stamps them. The work gets busier at certain times of the day, before nine in the morning and after five in the afternoon. All clerks work under the presiding officer, who supervises the polling hall.

"Sometimes the voters forget their polling cards or they turn up without registering," says Ms Johnson. "And every year there are people wanting to vote for their wife or husband. Each time we have to tell them that they are only able to vote for their spouse or for someone who is ill if they have applied for permission in writing."

One of the bonuses of the job is meeting up with people in the local community, but poll clerks must be seen to be unbiased.

"We have to be careful not to talk to voters about the candidates or we could be accused of canvassing for the parties," says Ms Johnson. "We refer them to tellers outside the hall if they want to discuss it; in the hall, it's all quiet. There are some voters who like to discuss their choice, while for others it is a big secret."

The chief qualities in a good poll clerk are friendliness and a lot of patience. Ms Johnson has often had to deal with odd questions from voters. "I remember once, an old lady came in wanting to vote for Mr Churchill. She was 20 years too late and I was the one who had to break it to her."

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