Timothy Herrera said it was the easiest $130 he ever made, working as a Spanish-speaking election inspector at Apostolic Assembly First Church, a polling place on Sonora Avenue in Modesto.
During Tuesday's election, he explained the voting process to two or three people who came in the door, didn't show anyone how to use the voting booth, read the newspaper and made progress researching a new health insurance plan.
From 7 a.m. until the polls closed at 8 p.m., 10 people cast their ballots at the polling station.
"We read some books, we talked," said Herrera, a retiree who used to manage auditors for the Internal Revenue Service in Modesto. "Besides being slow and monotonous, if we didn't have the people at the church to talk to, it would have been a long day."
During city and local district voting Tuesday, the election workers outnumbered the voters at some polling places in Stanislaus County.
At nine of the 159 polling locations, 10 people or fewer came in to cast ballots.
Herrera's dull day coincides with a rising percentage of county voters skipping the polls on Election Day and casting their ballots by mail.
Turnout in an odd-year local government election typically ranges from 20 percent to 25 percent in Stanislaus County. That didn't change Tuesday.
But, 75 percent of the 46,302 ballots cast came by mail, up from 52 percent in 2003. That and a few other deterrents made for sparse attendance at some polls.
Two people voted at the Shackelford Family Learning Center on El Paso Avenue in Modesto. Two other sites had four and five voters all day; a polling place in Turlock had six.
Herrera was among five paid election workers at his polling site, assisted by three volunteers who came in during the day.
Herrera's colleagues have jobs with the IRS, so he got to do some catching up and talk about the changes coming next year to their health coverage. He said that in one three-hour period, not a single voter came in.
"The cost-effectiveness of the site was not that great," he said.
The El Paso Avenue polling station, with its two votes, cost the county about $750 per vote. According to the election office, it costs more than $1,500 to operate a polling site. That includes pay for election workers -- $130 for inspectors and $95 for judges.
The county also pays $40 for use of the building and has costs for training and printing ballot pamphlets and ballots. Because turnout is never 100 percent, the election office is required to print ballots for 75 percent of registered voters in each precinct, at a cost of 55 to 60 cents apiece.
On an Election Day with 22 percent turnout countywide, a lot of those ballots went to waste. The county passes on the costs to the agencies on the ballot.
People who follow local politics gave a number of reasons for the poor turnout at polls: the growing popularity of voting by mail, lagging interest in local elections and a county election office decision to move voting away from schools because of swine flu concerns.
"The major reason was that it was not a state or national election," said Dave Geer, the councilman-elect for Modesto's City Council District 2. "It seems like the local elections don't get the public interested enough to get people off their duffs and vote."
Tuesday's dismal turnout was in contrast with the 71 percent turnout in Stanislaus County for the presidential general election last year.
The county's voting population has been shunning the polls in favor of mail voting. In this election, 34,503 of the 46,302 votes were cast by mail.
More than 98,000 of the county's 217,500 registered voters are permanent mail-in voters.
The sight of empty voting booths will give cause for more consolidation of polling locations.
Lee Lundrigan, the county registrar of voters, said polling places were consolidated before the election. But the process is not based on turnout, it's based on voter registration. By law, the county must have a precinct for every area with 250 to 1,000 registered voters.
To save costs, two or more precincts can be overlapped at a polling location, depending on the type of election. Areas with fewer than 250 registered voters are designated as all-mail precincts. There are 94 all-mail precincts in the county.
Michael Burtch, chairman of the county's Democratic Party Central Committee, said he hopes the tradition of going to the polls isn't lost.
"I like voting by mail because I do it," he said. "But I talk to a lot of people who are adamant that they want to go to the polls. There is something special about it."
Herrera said it was the slowest day of voting he has witnessed in seven or eight years of working elections. He won't keep his earnings. He and his IRS colleagues earned the money to donate to student scholarships.
"It is disappointing that not more people were involved in the city election," he said. "It is important that we all participate."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.