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OPINION: Getting people out to vote creates a more perfect union

Marco Moreno
Marco Moreno

On the first Tuesday morning of February, the sidewalk was blanketed in a layer of snow and ice. The temperature read just above freezing, but the light breeze outside made it known that it is not warm. Beside the sidewalk was a busy highway with a speed limit that no morning commuter respects. To reach my nearest vote center and cast my vote in the state’s presidential primary, this is the primary sidewalk I’d be walking along. Altogether, it’d be a two-and-a-half hour walk in the cold, next to a slick road sped down by most drivers. 

I tell you this story because much care has been put into securing the right to vote for all American adults. Since the U.S. Constitution was ratified 234 years ago, there have been four amendments to advance this right: the 15th Amendment that enfranchised Black Americans and former slaves in 1870; the 17th Amendment that brought about the popular election of U.S. senators in 1913; the 19th Amendment that extended the right to vote to women; and the 26th Amendment that lowered the minimum voting age to 18. 

What is less discussed, and which often goes overlooked, is an Americans’ ability to vote. By that, I mean that there are millions of Americans who have the right to vote, but who do not have the means to go out and vote, whether that be because of transportation, work, not knowing enough about the issues or any combination of the three. In fact, the most recent landmark legislation tackling this “voting ability” issue was passed by Congress nearly 22 years ago, a lot of which remains unresolved. 

According to a 2020 Ipsos poll, 21 percent of Americans reported that having more accessible polling places would most encourage them to vote. In a 2018 report by the Pew Research Center, 22 percent of Americans planning to vote expected to encounter some sort of logistical challenge. The most commonly cited of these challenges had to do with time consumption and scheduling conflicts. 

I don’t have a car, and if I weren’t more resourceful, walking to my Vote Center is the only way I’d be able to vote. Many more Nevadans don't have a choice. More accurately, many Nevadans don't think they have a choice. The reality is that there are multiple avenues by which one may get their vote in the ballot box, and there is a lot more that can be done to advance the ability of each Nevadan to vote. 

One way to address accessibility to the polls is to offer free public transportation options (as RTC Washoe did in 2020 and 2022) and make those options known. An affordable option is RTC Washoe’s FlexRide service, which offers curbside service to areas adjacent to downtown Reno for only $2, or $1 for reduced fares. The service is free to students, faculty and staff of UNR, Truckee Meadows Community College, Desert Research Institute and Western Nevada College, as are all of its fixed-route transit services. Additionally, there is no legal barrier against private citizens carpooling to the polls. 

Another option may be Lyft, which is expanding its area of coverage in the coming months. The popular ridesharing service announced in late April that it is partnering with When We All Vote, VoteRiders and the League of Women Voters to provide discounted rides to community college students in areas across the United States deemed by these organizations to be in need of transportation. While communities in Nevada aren't guaranteed to be among those areas, I don’t toss out the possibility. 

Another common logistical reason Americans cite when asked why they don’t vote is that their work schedule makes it inconvenient. This is a problem that stems from inadequate voter education. Employees need to be made aware that if they wish to vote during the working week, they have the ability to do so without losing pay. This is made possible by NRS 293.463, which allows an employee to request civil leave any day up to Election Day to vote. 

Per the statute, employees can request civil leave anytime during early voting in primary and general elections if it is “impracticable” for them to vote before or after their hours of employment. In other words, if an employee believes that they would not be able to cast their vote at a polling place because of their shift or another work-related circumstance, they may be able to get paid time off work to vote. 

The amount of leave varies by the distance from the polling location to the workplace. The minimum amount of leave an employee can request is one hour for 2 miles and less and the maximum is three hours for distances 10 miles and greater. Anything in between is two hours. A table summarizing this can be found on the Division of Human Resource Management website. 

The statute also states that it is a misdemeanor offense for employers to deny their employees leave or penalize them for exercising their right to take it. This means that employers cannot compel their employees to vote using their personal time off or dock their pay for the time they were out voting. All that employers can do is designate the time that their employees may request leave to vote. 

Even equipped with this knowledge, there are people who are hesitant to ask their employers for time off to vote. There are others who would love to assist in getting out the vote or working in understaffed polling places, but who are unable to due to their work obligations. Then, there are students, such as myself, who have neither the car or the time throughout the week to vote. 

In March, 91 percent of undergraduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno, voted yes on a campuswide ballot question empowering the Associated Students of the University of Nevada to seek Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents approval to cancel classes on Election Day. Should the board move forward with this, it would create a day of opportunity for more than 105,000 students at the system’s eight institutions to vote, volunteer and advocate across the state. 

But the mere cancellation of classes on college campuses doesn’t go far enough. While many K-12 students in Nevada already don’t have school on Election Day — namely in Clark and Washoe counties, thanks in large part to many of the schools serving as polling locations — the same doesn’t extend to teachers, administrators and all other state and district employees. I find this problematic as both school districts are the top employers in their respective counties — at least 7,500 in Washoe County and more than 42,500 in Clark County. Put another way, that is roughly 50,000 altogether. 

Even if only 0.2 percent of those 50,000 participated in poll working, canvassing and carpooling, that is still 100 more people engaging others in our civic tradition that were not free to do so previously. Now what if it were 1 percent? Or 2 percent? Or 10? Of course this is speculation, but there is simply no telling what tens of thousands of Nevadans would do in reaction to having this important day off. In either case, by having more individuals out of the workplace and on the streets or at the polls, Nevada cultivates a citizenry bound more closely to its civic responsibilities. 

And it is not like the creation of an Election Day holiday is some niche issue without much support behind it. In February, the Pew Research Center published a report that found that 72 percent of American adults, irrespective of political leaning, support the establishment of an Election Day holiday. This is especially relevant to our state as the largest bloc of Nevada voters are registered nonpartisan. Despite this broad support for having Election Day off, no legislative action to that effect has been taken in this state. It falls on us Nevadans to go to our state legislators in 2025, make them listen to the popular voice and get a bill passed that makes Election Day a legal holiday. 

There is still a lot of work to be done. A new holiday itself is not going to solve stunting partisanship, stalking of our public officials, or distrust in our elections. However, it is my belief that by bringing awareness to the many opportunities we have to vote and expanding on them, meaningful progress can be made toward achieving a more perfect union. 

Marco Moreno is an undergraduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is the director of elections at the Center for Student Engagement.

The Nevada Independent welcomes informed, cogent rebuttals to opinion pieces such as this. Send them to [email protected].


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