Polls open to steady stream of voters

most polling locations report short waits, smooth operations

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: Voters in line Oct. 17 outside the Northwest Reno Library on the first day of early voting.

Vickie Smith of Reno drove past the Northwest Reno Library at 11 a.m. on the first day of early voting Oct. 17 and saw that the line of people stretched across the front of the building, indicating about a one-hour wait at that polling place.

She and her two friends retreated to a restaurant for a late breakfast before returning to the library at about 12:20 p.m., when the line was about half its former length. The three women, each holding their mail-in ballots, joined the end of the queue. Smith said they came in a group because with all the rhetoric in advance of the national election, they didn’t know what to expect and “there’s safety in numbers.”

“But this is nice,” Smith said. “It’s hot, but it feels good.” She and a line of about 30 others stood under the midday sun, their shadows in dark puddles at their feet. There was no electioneering, demonstrations or would-be unofficial poll watchers there. The masked voters talked quietly with one another, leafed through sample ballots, studied their cell phones or stood stoically waiting their turns to enter.

Polling places observe COVID-19 precautions

Temperatures were taken at the library door.  An election worker wearing a mask, a face shield and swathed in a plastic poncho directed voters to tables where they signed in. Then they cast their ballots  at one of the computer stations. A poll volunteer armed with sanitizing wipes cleaned the touch screens after each use.

Smith had her mail-in ballot in her hand, but chose to vote in person because “I just want to make sure my vote gets to where it needs to be.” Her friend, Tina Grant, agreed. “I want to get in there and see my vote right in front of me,” she said. “That way I’m sure. Nobody can say there’s anything wrong (with filling out a mail-in ballot).”

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: Voters in line at the Northwest Reno Library Oct. 17, where wait time averaged about 30 minutes.

Smith and her companions were among hundreds of Washoe County residents who lined up at 15 polling places to cast ballots as 14 days of early voting got underway. The polls are open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters who choose to mail in their ballots may track their documents’ progress with an online tool.

Some voters dropped off mail ballots

Holly Hemming of Reno brought her mail-in ballot to the library to deliver it in person rather than letting the Post Office do the job. She said she has cast ballots in every election since becoming eligible to vote. In previous elections elsewhere, she has served as a precinct captain and put in time as a volunteer for candidates. This year she wasn’t active in campaigns, but sees the 2020 presidential contest as a pivotal point in our nation’s history.

Holly Hemming with her ballot.

“This election is extremely important,” Hemming said. “There’s a trend towards authoritarianism that I’ve never before seen in my lifetime. I’m voting for the environment. I’m voting to make sure we don’t lose our rights; I’m voting for my future and my daughters’ future.”

Hemming said she is excited to see young people at the polls, some  of whom will be voting for the first time. “In the past, young people haven’t been very politically active,” she said. “I hope that’s changing.”

First-time voter ‘amped’ to cast ballot

Sandy Jensen of Reno, who turned 18 in May, is one of those voters Hemming was talking about. Jensen said until recently she hadn’t anticipated voting the way she looked forward to getting a driver’s license or graduating from high school. The events of this year changed her attitude.

“The whole COVID mess and everything that’s happened this year got me interested (in politics),” she said. “I’m amped to vote… It does matter who gets elected. If you don’t vote then you let other people decide what happens, how things get run and who gets helped and who doesn’t.”

If people want leaders who will act on behalf of all people and not just special interests, she said, they need to vote for them. “You can’t just stay on the sidelines and complain.”

 Tommy Avilla of Reno, who wore a powder blue facemask with the white letters VOTE printed across its front, said he considered mailing in his ballot, but wanted the satisfaction of “touching the screen and seeing the checkmarks” next to his choices. He said he wanted the finality of hitting the last button to send his votes on their way. “I filled out the mail ballot, but in the end it was kind of like it was just another utility bill or something,” he said. “It just feels more real (voting in person).”

Online resources available for voters

The Washoe County Registrar’s online map of polling place wait times indicated that the longest lines on the first day of early voting were in Sparks and Spanish Springs, which often listed waits of an hour or more. Mail ballots also may be dropped off at 16 locations throughout Washoe County that aren’t early voting sites.

The Nevada Secretary of State’s Office offers a search feature for those who want to verify that their registration is active. In Nevada, residents may register to vote on Election Day, Nov. 3. The Regional Transportation Commission is offering free rides to polling places on Election Day, when 29 polling sites are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mail ballots also may be dropped off at the 16 secure locations on Election day.

The Reno News & Review has an online Voters’ Guide with other links and information of interest to Washoe County voters.

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