NAPA VALLEY REGISTER
Much of Napa County’s election suspense ended just five minutes after the polls closed Tuesday night when John Tuteur, registrar of voters, tallied 32,587 early voters, about half the expected record turnout.
During the day, occasional lines were reported at the county’s reduced number of polling places, but there were no serious problems.
The line was out the door all day at the downtown Napa election office, where hundreds of would-be voters showed up to drop off mail-in ballots and resolve problems.
“I need a new ballot,” said Letitia Green, a mail-in voter. “I didn’t read the instructions. I was too excited.”
Some reported not getting their ballots because they recently moved or registered late. One woman said she showed up at her neighborhood polling place only to be told she had already voted.
Nearly 56,000 of the county’s 71,500 registered voters were voting by mail this election, including 2,500 who had their precincts taken away from them last summer. Only 16,000 voters were assigned precincts.
Some of the newbie mail voters apparently never got the word, showing up at their old polling places to vote like they always did.
Suzanne Dawson intended to drop off her mail-in ballot at Foothill Christian Fellowship on Laurel Street. Her ballot was rejected because she had lost the official ballot envelope. Election workers referred her to the downtown office.
“It’s so frustrating,” Dawson said. “I just miss the old-fashioned way. You showed up, you voted. Now they have you voting all over town.”
A few minutes later, Margie Adams arrived with her mail-in ballot, but she didn’t want to use it. “I’m not doing it that way,” she said.
She was stunned when election workers told her she didn’t have a choice. Worse yet, she too had thrown away her mail-in envelope.
“They should say, ‘You must do this,’” Adams said of the ballot she had received in the mail.
Tuteur has made Napa one of the biggest mail-in counties in the state. He has said he was prompted to accelerate the shift to vote by mail because of long lines at polling places in the November 2006 gubernatorial election.
Change is hard for some voters, Tuteur said. “Now they’re showing up at polling places somewhat bent out of shape.”
Sonny Ecker, voting inspector at Villa Del Rey on Villa Lane, said this was the biggest turnout election he had seen. “Much more Latinos than I normally see,” he said.
“A lot of young people,” said election worker Cheryl Jones.
A lack of translation services for Spanish-speaking voters was an issue at some precincts. Tuteur said he assigned his small pool of bilingual workers to the precincts with the highest percentage of Latino voters.
This wasn’t good enough for local high school students who are members of Leadership Academy — Young Leaders in Action. They fanned out to polling places Tuesday morning to offer translation services.
Gaby Sanchez, a senior at Napa High, said she assisted a “handful” of Latino voters at Napa Valley Exposition, including one woman who wanted a synopsis of the state initiatives in Spanish.
Fortunately, her organization had provided her with summary translations of the 12 ballot measures, Sanchez said.
“It was exciting,” Sanchez said of her first election day experience. When she turns 18, she plans to register to vote, she said.
Napa County does not provide bilingual ballots because the percentage of residents in the 2000 federal census who said they were monolingual in another language was less than the federal threshold of 5 percent, Tuteur said.
The actual number of Spanish-only residents could be higher than 5 percent, but that’s not what the census reported, he said.
At Donaldson Way Elementary School in American Canyon, home to two precincts west of Highway 29, about 50 voters were standing in line when the doors opened at 7 a.m., inspector Charlie Johnson said.
“I’ve never seen this before,” said Johnson, as voters stopped by to cast their ballots in the multi-purpose room.
At American Canyon’s Canyon Oaks Elementary School east of Highway 29, poll workers said people were waiting by 6:30 a.m.
As Canyon Oaks Principal Maren Rocca Hunt brought coffee for the poll workers, she said her students were excited. “They just know this is huge,” she said.
In Napa, a Republican voter took offense when she reported an election worker at Alta Heights Elementary School wearing a partisan button. Told of the incident Tuesday afternoon, Tuteur investigated, then left for the school. “I’m on my way to fire her,” he said. Political paraphernalia on election workers is strictly prohibited, he said.
With fewer precincts to staff this election, Tuteur said he was able to put more voting equipment at the remaining precincts.
Maryellen Martin, the inspector at the polling station at Napa Valley Baptist Church on Trower Avenue, said twice the normal volume of voters had voted by early afternoon.
Many of the voters at the Carolyn Parr Nature Center on Browns Valley were hand-delivering mail-in ballots rather than relying on the mail. Michael Lauher said he wanted to keep the tradition of precinct voting alive, although he enjoyed marking his ballot in the comfort of his home.
Sensing that many new mail-in voters would show up at their old precincts, the students with Leadership Academy — Young Leaders in Action persuaded Tuteur to print signs in English and Spanish telling voters at the defunct precincts where to go for assistance. The students distributed these signs Tuesday morning.
“The kids were great,” said Tuteur, who called the lack of signs an oversight on his part.
Tuteur predicted that 12,000 to 18,000 ballots would remain to be counted after election night. These will include mail-in ballots received after noon on Sunday and ballots cast on election day that needed further verification.
These remaining ballots may not be tallied until Nov. 18 and 19, Tuteur said.