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The Nevada Independent

In mostly mail-in election, voters who opt to cast ballot in person face long wait times

Savanna Strott
Savanna Strott
Kristyn Leonard
Kristyn Leonard
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
Election 2020

Daisy Ramirez arrived at the Paradise Recreation Center in Las Vegas at 7:24 a.m. to cast her ballot on Election Day. She didn't drop her ballot in the box until 2 1/2 hours later. 

Voters say the polling site didn't start letting people vote until almost an hour after it opened at 7 a.m. They said they were told issues with computers and printers were causing the delay. 

Later in the day, a staff member told The Nevada Independent that wait times also were because of the individualized process for each voter — some needed to register for the first time, others needed to update their registration and some couldn't mail in a ballot because it was damaged or lost. 

In an election carried out mostly by mail in an effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus, the vast majority of people are expected to cast a ballot through the mailbox. As of 10:42 a.m. June 9, the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office reported 365,942 ballots have been received, including 362,404 by mail, or 99 percent.

Still, long lines formed at the few locations where people were allowed to vote in person on Election Day. Some did it because they had lost or damaged their ballot, and others because they still needed to register to vote — this is the first election where voters can register to vote and vote on the same day after lawmakers authorized the practice in 2019 through AB345.

The recreation center was one of three in-person voting locations in Clark County on Election Day. The two other locations were at the Desert Breeze Community Center and the Clark County Election Department.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, Silver State Voices and Election Protection coalition sent a letter to the secretary of state and the Clark County registrar asking to extend polling hours from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the three in-person voting locations because of opening delays and long wait times. In a statement, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said that polls must close at 7 p.m. but will allow anyone in line by closing time to remain in line and vote, per Nevada law.

At the election department, voters waited 20 minutes outside in the sun before they were able to enter the building, and, once inside, would then have to wait in line two or three hours longer before they could cast their votes. 

While voters were protected by shade from the building early in the day, the shade was quickly disappearing by early afternoon and many voters waited with umbrellas in hand. Those with extra water bottles passed them along to their neighbors.

Jasmine Pedroso and Grace Galaviz had to leave before they were able to vote because of the long wait. They chose to vote on Election Day alongside several coworkers rather than by mail because they wanted to be able to vote in person.

Both Pedroso and Galviz work at the Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican Hospital in North Las Vegas and had planned on voting on their lunch break. However, upon entering the building, they were informed that the wait would be upwards of three hours.

“We asked our patients to come early so we’d have time,” said Pedroso. “It just wasn’t enough time.”

Pedroso describes herself as an active voter and has participated in many primary and general elections in the past. Galaviz has previously been less engaged, but thought that this year it was especially important for her to vote and share her voice.

“As minorities, we have to stand up and stay united, especially in times like these,” said Galaviz.

At the Paradise Recreation Center, the line to vote in person extended outside of the building about 20 feet at 9:30 a.m. An hour and a half later, it went to the corner and curled down the street. 

Despite the wait times, many voters stayed in line. Ramirez, 29, said she didn't have time to update her registration in time to vote by mail and decided to wait in the line because of the importance of voting.

"[I'm just] being more aware of everything that's happening and [I'm] trying to be an example for minorities since there's not a lot of us out here voting," she said.

Some voters came to vote in person because they had doubts about the mail-in process. 

One voter said he worried someone would open up his envelope and change his votes, and he was surprised that the location followed the same process as when a person mails it in: fill out our ballot, put it in an envelope, and sign it. All on-site voting locations are following that process aside from Washoe County, which is using electronic voting machines for in-person voting.

One woman put her ballot in the box and was overheard saying, "Let's hope they don't burn the ballot box," commenting on the potential of tampering of the paper ballots.

Some voters at the Election Department site were irritated by the use of paper ballots rather than machines for voting, openly expressing their dismay to volunteers and to others in line. Others were similarly irritated by the emphasis placed on wearing masks.

While voters were not required to wear masks in order to cast their votes, it was highly encouraged and volunteers were handing them out inside to any voter who had not brought one. One individual made his distaste very clear, announcing loudly that if they made him wear a mask, he would not be voting.

Once inside, voters went to a check-in station where election staff members, separated by plexiglass, registered voters or verified registration, depending on the voter. The process time varied. The site lead went from station to station to help staff with issues they were encountering as they processed each voter.

When they were finished, staff printed a ballot for the voter, gave them an envelope and sent them to fill out their ballots at stations on the other side of the room.

Voters who only had to drop off their ballots had their own entrance and avoided lines. They checked in with staff, who ensured their envelope was signed, and put their ballot in the box — a process that takes less than a minute for most.  

The process was the same for voters at the Clark County Election Department. Las Vegas resident Janessa Rosales, 23, said it took her longer to find parking than to check her signature and drop off her ballot.

“I didn’t really, honestly, know how to mail it in. I thought it would be easier to drop it off,” she said. “It took me about five minutes pulling in and finding a parking spot, mostly finding parking.”



Zachary Deittrick, 28

A man pulls at his mask in line
Zachary Deittrick, 28, waits in line to vote at the Paradise Recreation Center in Las Vegas on June 9, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The line was moving slowly at 10 a.m. when Zachary Deittrick, 28, got to Paradise Recreation Center to cast his vote. Despite the potentially long wait times, he said he wouldn't leave the line and would stay all day if needed because of the importance of voting. 

"The big ticket in November is really important, but I think local elections like this are even just as important."

Deittrick said he is registered to vote but never got his ballot in the mail. He said he has voted in every election in Nevada since he was 18, including five years of voting absentee while living in Buenos Aires. 

A registered Democrat, Deittrick said he will probably vote for mostly women and people of color. 

"I think those are the kind of demographics that need to go into office to affect the right amount of change that we need to see right now," he said.

— Savanna Strott

Melissa Oldham, 40: ‘I like to go in … and punch the little thing’ 

Melissa Oldham, 40, showed up ready to vote — and ready to wait in the Las Vegas Valley heat — in a black pro-Trump tank top.

Oldham, a resident of North Las Vegas and registered Republican, came out to vote in person because she didn’t realize that the primary would be mail-in and accidentally threw out her ballot.

“I like to go in, and do the little thing, and punch the little thing, and hand it in that way,” she said. “And even though I watch the news all the time, I had no idea it was only mail in.”

— Kristyn Leonard

Daisy Ramirez, 29: Trying to be an example

A woman stands outside a voting center.
Daisy Ramirez stands outside of the in-person voting center at Paradise Recreation Center in Las Vegas on June 9, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Voting is very important to Daisy Ramirez — so important that she waited two and a half hours to do it. 

"[I'm just] being more aware of everything that's happening and [I'm] trying to be an example for minorities since there's not a lot of us out here voting," she said.

She said that the process was slow to get started but once the line started moving, it went quickly at the Paradise Recreation Center.

Ramirez declined to say what party she's registered as and who she voted for, but she said that the issue most important to her is ensuring everyone is equal and looks for that represented in candidates' platforms.

There were no specific races or candidates that stuck out to her. 

"Right now I'm just trying to get as involved as possible with anything and everything that I can," she said. 

— Savanna Strott

Nadine Price, 36, Judy Lybarger, 68, Brian Erle, 59: Wary of the postal service

Nadine Price, 36, stands outside the Clark County Election Department after casting her primary ballot on June 9, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Nadine Price, 36, of North Las Vegas chose to drop off her ballot in person rather than mailing it in because it felt safer to her.

“I just didn’t trust USPS not to lose it or any of that. Plus, my signature is on the outside of it,” she said.

Price consistently votes in primary elections, and was excited this year to cast her vote for her area’s school board seat as well as for one of the judges, who she was familiar with because the two had gone to high school together.

Judy Lybarger, 68, shared Price’s sentiment regarding the postal service.

“I don’t believe in mail-in voting,” she said. Lybarger said she also votes in every primary election and that this year she was particularly interested in the congressional races.

According to her, the drop off process was very quick.

“It took about five seconds,” she said.

Brian Erle, 59, who also chose to drop off his ballot rather than mailing did so because it had taken him a while to fill out his ballot, and he wanted to make sure it was delivered in a timely manner. Even though it took him a long time to reach his decision, he wanted to make sure that decision was counted quickly.

“It took a while to research everybody and figure out who I was going to vote for,” he said. “Even then it was difficult to know what each person stood for. There was no easy access.”

— Kristyn Leonard

Walter Spargo, 55: ‘I think it's easy to hijack the ballots’

Walter Spargo, a 55-year-old retired member of the Air Force, came to the Washoe County voting site to vote in-person to ensure his vote was counted.

“I think it's easy to hijack the ballots. It's easy to change the ballots. It's easy for them to be conveniently lost in the mail,” he said. “I don't think it can be properly supervised to make sure that that doesn't happen

Spargo, who lives in Reno, had to vote by mail when he was overseas, but has always preferred going to a voting booth.

“I didn't trust it then either, but when you're several thousand miles away overseas in Japan or Germany. It's not like you can fly home and vote,” he said. “I didn't have a choice then I should have one now that I’m back in the world.”

One of Spargo’s fears is people taking advantage of the voting system.

“I'd like to see voter ID. I don't know if that's a separate issue or not,” he said. “I think it's too easy to just walk in there and say you're somebody and give them your information, sign their name and vote as anybody else, if you wanted to.”

Overall though, the process was what he expected and his only other major complaint is the lack of other voting sites in Washoe County.

“I think they should have more than one polling place. I think it's ridiculous to have one place for all of Washoe County to come and vote in person,” Spargo said.

— Tabitha Mueller

Christy Fruhwirth, 29: ‘This was too important to miss’

Christy Fruhwirth, 29, a hairstylist in Reno, received a sample ballot in the mail, but not the actual ballot, so she came to the Washoe County site to cast her vote in the primary. 

She would have preferred to vote via mail, which would have reduced her need to interact with other people — something she does on a daily basis for work and is trying to limit.

“This was too important to miss,” she said with a laugh. “I feel like everyone kept a pretty good distance, it didn't take that long, so overall, not too bad.”

Although she wasn’t watching too many of the races, Fruhwirth said that she was rooting for Devon Reese, a candidate for the Reno City Council’s at-large seat. 

— Tabitha Mueller

Abulkalam Nuruzzaman, 69: Excited about camaraderie at voting booths

Every election, Abulkalam Nuruzzaman, 69, makes sure to come to the polls to vote. 

“Really important for everybody, all citizens,” he said. “I'm choosing people for which are the best people to come to work with us.”

He selects candidates based on their track record, ability to work with the community and does research before making any decisions. 

Family members joined him at the Washoe County voting site, and he was excited about the camaraderie at the voting booths.

Nuruzzaman has lived in Reno for 18 years and this year, he would have voted by mail, except his mailbox broke and his ballot never arrived as a result. 

Even though waiting in line was not ideal, especially with the pandemic, Nuruzzaman thought the process went well.

“It’s pretty good,” he said. “A lot of people in line, but very, very good. So no problem at all. We maintained the distance so no problem.”

— Tabitha Mueller

Victoria Eanni, 67: ‘It's a little silly to have one voting site for the whole county’

Victoria Eanni, a 67-year-old pharmaceutical technician, has always voted in-person.

“I'm not one to vote by mail,” she said. “I just think it's better to be the one watching myself vote.”

Eanni added that she was surprised that there was not much of a wait in line and that everyone was following social distancing recommendations.

“It's a little silly to have one voting site for the whole county, but hopefully they'll get back to the way it used to be and we'd all have our polling place to go to closer to home,” she said.

She is also worried about the potential for miscounts.

“I'm not afraid of [mail-in voting] so much as I just don't think it's going to be as accurate,” she said.

— Tabitha Mueller


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