Voters stand in line for hours

Not everyone took part in state's first mail-in primary

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: Voters wait to cast their ballots in Washoe County Tuesday

By Frank X. Mullen

A pandemic stole a lot of the experiences Jessica Cartwright was supposed to have during her landmark 18th year on the planet, but on Tuesday even COVID couldn’t stop her from voting, in-person, for the first time in her life.

“My mom brought me with her every time she voted since I was a baby,” said Jessica, who stood in line with her mother, Gabriella, and hundreds of others to cast ballots at the Washoe County Administration Complex, the county’s only polling place in the primary election. “I was looking forward to doing it for a long time.”

So many of the other things the Damonte Ranch High School senior waited so long to do had been cancelled:  the walk across the Lawlor Events Center stage for her diploma, the prom, graduation parties, and other celebrations. There were substitutes, including a graduation parade, a lone walk in a cap and gown on a smaller stage and get-togethers with friends on the Internet. “I’d rather have done things the traditional way, but we had to do what we had to do,” she said.

Jessica, who will be attending Concordia University in Irvine, Calif., next year, could have filled out a mail-in ballot and avoided the line at the polling place, but that substitution was a bridge too far. “Yeah, I worry about the virus,” she said. “But I’m wearing a mask, I have hand sanitizer and we’re keeping the social distance. I wanted to vote the way I always thought I would.” Voting, she said, is important.

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: Gabriella Cartwright and her daughter, Jessica, wait to vote.

Nevada conducted an all-mail primary this year to help prevent the spread of COVID. The Washoe County Registrar reported that about 367,000 residents returned those ballots by Tuesday morning, or about 22 percent of the state’s active registered voters. On Tuesday, hundreds of people lined up at the county’s lone polling place starting just after 6 a.m. Wait times were about 45 minutes in the afternoon but stretched to two hours or more as closing time approached at 7 p.m. Some of those in the line had their mail-in ballots in their hands. They gave various reasons for voting in person.

“I lost (the mail-in ballot), don’t ask me how,” said Sissy Garcia of Reno. “It was on the kitchen table for weeks and weeks. I kept looking at it and thinking I needed to get on the computer and look up the candidates. Then a couple days ago I went to do that and it was gone. Nobody knew nothing.” She said she checked the trash and even went into the yard at night and went through the plastic trash bin with a flashlight. Gone. Vanished without a trace, she said. But she said she never considered not voting.  “I always vote,” Garcia said. “I think it’s a duty, especially these days.”

Randy of Reno, who declined to give his last name, held his mail-in ballot in his hand. He had already marked his choices on the form. “I don’t trust the mail, things tend to get lost,” he said. “I feel better doing it in person.” Randy, who was among about 30 percent of people in the line at about 4 p.m. who weren’t wearing a face mask, said he wasn’t worried about the virus. “I don’t believe in it,” he said.

Other voters interviewed explained they were in line because they distrusted mail-in elections, lost or accidentally destroyed their ballots or preferred traditional voting. The queue wrapped around the county buildings all afternoon and never seemed to get any shorter. Volunteers walked alongside the voters and reminded them to keep about six feet apart. They offered them small bags of snacks and bottles of water as they stood in the bright sunlight and chatted with each other, looked at their phones or consulted their ballots. One woman, who had been in line for about 40 minutes, collapsed, possibly a result of the heat. Those standing nearby came to her aid. Firefighters and an ambulance arrived. The line crept forward. Several candidates were on hand to bump elbows with voters.

“It’s been a crazy campaign season, but we adapted. No in-person town halls or fund-raisers, no door-to-door canvassing. We changed it into an opportunity with virtual town halls, Zoom, Facebook Live. We got it done.”

— Clint Koble, Nevada Second Congressional District candidate in the Democratic Primary.

People in line by 7 p.m. were allowed to vote. The registrar reported on Twitter that the last voter cast a ballot in Washoe County at 8:53 p.m. and 1,279 people voted in person. The state’s turnout in the primary was set at 28.5 percent of eligible voters. The county supplied a time lapse video of Tuesday’s voting line.

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