Claremont family has Sycamore polling precinct covered

For most of us, November 8 is a time to make our mark, playing a crucial role in the political process. For the Stump-Fagg family, it’s time to get to work.

For 24 years, Sonja Stump and Bob Fagg—owners of a longstanding Claremont photography studio—have turned out to Sycamore Elementary School to serve as poll-workers for the Claremont precinct. In recent years, they’ve been joined by their daughter, COURIER classifieds editor Rachel Fagg.

Ms. Stump, a certified election inspector, pioneered the household tradition of civic duty. She first became a poll worker in 1980, in the contest where Ronald Reagan knocked out incumbent Jimmy Carter. Mr. Fagg joined her in 1992.

This year, the race foremost on everyone’s mind is the one between Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton. The excitement was enough to lure Ms. Stump and Mr. Fagg’s other daughter, Gretchen, from her home in London to volunteer at the polls.

As a dual citizen, she’s eligible to vote in the United States and is eager to have her say. “We’re always glad that our girls appreciate being able to vote,” Ms. Stump said.

She said she’s been moved by the pride shown in recent years by the people of Iraq—some of them women in full hijab—after voting. Holding up a purple ink-stained finger, the Iraqi version of an “I voted” sticker, has been a badge of honor since the country’s first free elections in 2005.

“I think of how proud they are. People don’t always appreciate what a privilege it is,” Ms. Stump said, tearing up.

The couple is well aware that political involvement can be divisive.

“I don’t even talk to Sonja about who I’m going to vote for,” Mr. Fagg said. 

Ms. Stump said she understands that a lot is at stake, but would like to people behave in a more congenial manner, despite their differences of opinion. It’s been a rough campaign in that respect, she noted.

“I think the level of rudeness has gone up incrementally,” she asserted. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite as much vitriol.”

Still, she believes Americans will return to getting along once some of the hard feelings fade.

“I think that whoever wins, most Americans are going to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to give this a person a chance,’” Ms. Stump said. “We’ll mend some fences.”

Ms. Stump and Mr. Fagg share many fond memories of working the precinct, particularly of the days when their girls were small and attending Sycamore.

“At recess they’d come running down the hall and say, ‘Hey Papa, hey Mama!’ It was sweet,” Mr. Fagg recalled.

Today, some Sycamore students may file into the lobby of the multi-purpose room to catch a glimpse of democracy at work. They’re warned to be quiet and are instructed to sit on the floor, respecting the voters’ privacy.

If Ms. Stump and Mr. Fagg aren’t too busy, they’ll let the kids try marking a sample ballot with choices like Abraham Lincoln for president.

Sycamore students benefit from more than a civics lesson. They also make a little money with a bake sale they hold to coincide with election day. Money goes to fund the sixth graders’ outdoor science school.

Ms. Stump and Mr. Fagg wish there were even more potential customers for the young entrepreneurs.

“Sadly, not enough people vote,” Ms. Stump said. “We couldn’t handle the crowd if everyone if our precinct showed up.”

Still, there are lots and lots of regulars.

“One of my favorite things about working the polls is I get to see neighbors—people I’ve known for years and years,” Mr. Fagg said. “We know which neighbors have passed away, who’s there first thing in the morning and who are always the last two people.”

It’s fun to say hi, but Election Day is not just a social whirl.

The husband-and-wife team shows up the evening before to set up the precinct, then arrive at 6 a.m. on Election Day. The polls close at 8 p.m. and they stay another hour or so, making sure the signatures on the roster match those on the ballots.

Next, they drive the sealed ballot box to La Verne, where they line up in the civic center parking lot. A sheriff supervises as election supplies are turned over, ready to be taken to Norwalk for tabulation.

After that, the Stump-Fagg family is able to do what everyone else in the country seems to do. They go home and turn on the news, to see which candidates and initiatives are taking the lead.

They’ll be paying attention to a particularly local issue on the ballot: the fate of Measure G. If the general obligation bond initiative passes, Claremont schools will be getting $58 million toward facility upgrades.

Mr. Stump and Ms. Fagg have a sign rooting for Measure G on their lawn.

There will be no sign of their boosterism at the election site, however. Poll workers are banned from showing any sign of electioneering. And all those who come to vote must keep their ballot choices private, too, according to Ms. Stump.

If someone comes in wearing a political button, they have to remove it. If they have on a T-shirt espousing a particular candidate or measure, they are asked to go into the restroom and put it on backwards. It’s not just kids who get dress-coded!

Mr. Fagg said he can’t emphasize enough the importance of weighing in on political decisions on the local level.

“I’m a guy that believes everything comes from the people up, locally, rather than from the top down,” Mr. Fagg said. “I admire our local leaders’ efforts.”

Ms. Stump agreed, but said she prefers to keep her contribution to governance behind the scenes. 

“People tell me, you should run for city council,” Ms. Stump said. “My skin isn’t thick enough.”

—Sarah Torribio


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