Kevin Courtney, Napa Journal: Where were the voters? | Columnists

KEVIN COURTNEY

I started working at the American Canyon Vote Center 10 days before Tuesday’s primary election, but where were the voters?

Probably to celebrate Memorial Day weekend or at BottleRock. Good for them, but it left us election workers twiddling their thumbs.

I was not worried. Voters would eventually show up.

To kill time, my co-workers and I appreciated the convenience that made this center, located in the Holiday Inn Express, unlike any other polling centers in the county. We ate “second breakfasts”, taking part in the buffet offered to guests for the night.

I was the first to swallow. I headed for a marvel of culinary engineering, the pancake machine. Press a button and a minute later two little flappers fall onto a paper plate. I watched it happen in abject wonder.

I took my pancakes and sausage links to my computer station. If a voter had caught me stuffing my face, I would have offered an enthusiastic “welcome” while quietly wiping the syrup from my beard.

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With breakfast taken care of, my teammates and I shared what had happened in our lives since we last worked together during the September gubernatorial election. We talked about vacations, the intricacies of olive oil production, weight loss and weight gain. It was like a family reunion.

Hours go by and still no voters. Was it possible that they ALL chose to send their ballots by mail? At noon, in turn, we dispersed for lunch. I ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich from home in the hotel lobby, next to the prohibited buffet breakfast area.

Shortly after 2 p.m., it finally happened: two voters entered.

We came to attention so quickly you’d think Tom Cruise had arrived.

An older man and his adult son, from India, with limited English skills, had problems voting. The son had lost his absentee ballot and wanted to vote in person. The father asked for confirmation that he had correctly marked his ballot.

While others were researching the son’s eligibility, I approached to help the confused father. He showed both pages of his marked ballot and asked if he had made a mistake.

I shivered. I didn’t want to see his choices. Was it a sting? Was I being tested by a stop-the-stealer looking for evidence of election worker bias?

Again, this guy seemed like a complete novice. I clouded my eyes and let him show me his ballots.

I focused on the color of the ink he used to make his choices.

Sounds good, I said. Now let’s put those ballots back in the envelope. No more making waves.

He had trouble with the folding. I let him struggle. I didn’t want my fingerprints on it.

He signed the envelope according to my instructions, but when it came to licking it, the father seemed reluctant. Afraid of germs? A language barrier? After waiting a while, I brought the envelope to my lips and licked it for him. He smiled approvingly.

I have since learned that the electoral centers have adhesive sticks for this purpose. No language needed.

Father and son left with “I voted” stickers, souvenir pens and our applause. The son returned a few minutes later. Could he have a few more stickers for his kids?

These new Americans were so proud. They had exercised a fundamental right of citizenship. They seemed oblivious to the bitter political debates the vote triggers these days.

Only one other person showed up during our first day of operation – a woman wanting to drop off rather than mail her ballot.

To summarize: Six election workers. Eight hours of voting center operation. Three voters.

These are not inspiring statistics, but it is not the fault of us, the election workers. We didn’t choose to twiddle our thumbs as our main Saturday activity.

Before my next shift at the Holiday Inn Express, I received a sad email saying that those “second breakfasts” were gone. Going forward, the buffet would only be available to paying customers.

My morale suffered for a day or two. I dreamed of hot pancakes that came out at the touch of a button.

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