At 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Catherine Ryan hung the Stars and Stripes on the same old tree out front and opened her home to 1,318 neighbors.
They trickled in all day, some lingering for a little chitchat but most attending strictly to the business of voting for three school board members in South Pasadena.
For old-timers, it was the same familiar, homey living room they had entered for almost every election day for 20 years. So familiar, in fact, that Ryan got a few compliments on the new carpeting and the new grandchild, whose picture joined the others on the mantel.
"I never bother to check my polling place, I just look to see if the flag is in front of the Ryans', as usual," said one early voter who lives a block away.
Ryan, 73, has lived in that house on Milan Avenue for 38 years with her husband, Arthur, a retired postal employee. She can't remember for sure, it was so long ago, but she thinks she started serving on election boards 35 years ago and has contributed her home for almost every election since about 1965.
It all got started, she said, when "someone called and asked me to serve because I was the only Democrat in the district. I'm still a Democrat, but not quite the only one."
Rosa Garcia, a spokesman for the county registrar-recorder's office, said private homes are generally preferred as polling places. Public buildings, such as schools, have parking problems and conflicting activities, she said.
On Tuesday, it was business as usual. Ryan and three other election board members started setting things up well before 7 a.m. They assembled four booths that had been delivered to the front porch two weeks earlier. They took their places behind a long table and worked a 15-hour day, for which Catherine Ryan, as inspector, received $45, and another $25 for the use of the house. The others were paid $35.
"Money doesn't have anything to do with it," said Elizabeth Schrieber, who has worked on election boards for more than 30 years, usually in the Ryan living room. "It's a real pleasure."
On their team were Sofia Pineda, a native of Nicaragua who was working her second election, and Charles Fall, who took the day off from his job with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Tuesday's was the smallest turnout any of them had witnessed, they said. They guessed that it was because this was solely a school board election in a district that has no controversy.
"Sometimes we have people lined up at 7 a.m. before they go to work, and again in the evening," Ryan said. "It's nice when it's steady, a lot better than twiddling our thumbs."
Arthur Ryan, 76 and a veteran election board member, said the best part of having elections at their house is being thanked by so many voters. The worst part, he said, is "we gotta move all that darned furniture around and tie up the chandelier so people won't hit their heads on it. That, and setting up the booths."
"I feel that this is important, and that we're important," said Pineda. She compared her comfortable, friendly surroundings to the polling places she remembered in Nicaragua. "They were dangerous places where mobs had political confrontations. It wasn't safe to vote."
The first person to vote on Tuesday was Joseph Montoya, a community planner in Culver City, who arrived exactly at 7 a.m. wearing a gray three-piece suit and dark glasses.
"My voting has nothing to do with school issues," Montoya said. "I want to make sure I don't miss a chance to vote, in case I have to work late. I graduated from Bishop Amat High School in the 1970s, when there was all that turbulence, and I remember very clearly that 58,000 men died in Vietnam to assure me a right to vote. To vote in every election--that's the least I can do."