Washoe turnout sets record

No problems reported at 29 polling places, mail ballot drop-off sites

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: First-time voters Sabastian Esparza and Yasmin Horta, who registered on Election Day.

Yasmin Horta was influenced by campaign advertising to register to vote and cast her first ballot on Nov. 3. The advertising worked, she said, but not in the way it was intended.

“Seeing the really big Trump signs around got to me,” she said. “It made me feel that I needed to come here and vote and give my opinion.” Her opinion was the opposite of the signs’ messages. She voted for former Vice President Joe Biden, she said.

Her friend, Sebastian Esparza, who accompanied Horta to the polling place at the Sparks Library, also is a first-time voter, but he registered to vote in advance of Election Day. Both Sparks residents said they know a lot of young people who also cast ballots for the first time in this election, including Esparza’s former classmates from Sparks High School and Horta’s ex-classmates from Wooster High School.

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: Voters in line at the Sparks Library polling site the afternoon of Nov. 3.

Record number of voters

The pair are among more than 21,000 voters who showed up to vote in-person at 29 polling places across Washoe County Tuesday. They joined the 213,000 voters who had already exercised their franchise through the mail or at early-voting locations, setting a record for the county. The more than 234,000 voters easily eclipsed the 210,000 voter count for the 2016 presidential election.

Heather Carmen, Washoe County assistant registrar, said the county’s turnout of registered voters had topped 76% by 5 p.m. Tuesday.  The registrar’s office was tallying the votes after all the polls closed shortly after 7 p.m., but by law must wait until all of the state’s counties are ready to report before the results of the races can be announced.

Lines were minimal at most polling sites throughout the day, according to the county’s real-time mapping application. Most sites reported waits of 30 minutes or less, although at various times the Sparks Library, Reed High School and Reno High School had waits of more than an hour. There were no major problems reported at any of the in-person or ballot drop-off locations, Carmen said.

No interference reported

There were no instances of voter interference reported, although at the Sparks Library Tuesday morning, a man stationed himself in the polling place parking area for a time and, using a portable amplifier, castigated voters who might be thinking of voting for Democrats. He warned them about “a lake of fire.” Sparks Police responded to complaints. He left soon after.

The line at the library got shorter in the mid-afternoon. Voters were asked why they chose not to use the mail-in or early voting options.

“No reason, really. This is the way I’ve always voted,” said Linda Barajas. “The library is convenient.” She said she couldn’t be certain that a mailed ballot would be counted. Besides, she said, she looked forward to voting in person. “I wanted to vote in this presidential race because everyone’s voice should be heard,” she said. “I care what happens to this country and I wanted to have my say.”

Lee Eslao of Sparks said she has been eligible to vote for years, but cast her first ballot on Tuesday. “I wasted time and didn’t bother to vote in 2016,” she said. “Now I’m hoping for a better outcome.”

Tyler Sherbourne of Sparks said he recently moved and didn’t get a mail-in ballot. “It’s not bad,” he said as he approached the library doors. “It’s only been a 15 or 20 minute wait so far.”

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: Michael Castillo and Michael Cook waiting to vote on Election Day.

Local issues, candidates cited

Michael Castillo and his friend, Michael Cook, said they came to the polls more for the state and local elections than the presidential race. “I didn’t go with the mail voting,” Castillo said. “Election Day just seemed like the right day to do it.”

By 3:30, the line outside the library had grown longer and the county’s wait-time app predicted up to a 90-minute wait. Wait times listed at the other sites ebbed and flowed.

At the polling site at the Wilbur May Museum at Rancho San Rafael  Park, times listed varied from a few minutes to about an hour at 10 a.m.

COVID-19 drove turnout

Sissy Mahoney, who voted at the museum Tuesday, said she hadn’t cast a ballot in a General Election since 2008.  She said the president and the pandemic got her to the polls this year. “I was going to vote for sure, but COVID really made me swear I wasn’t going to skip it no matter what,” Mahoney said. She has relatives on the East Coast who became very ill with the disease this spring. “Trump has done nothing but deny the pandemic and people have died that didn’t have to,” she said.

Other voters interviewed at the museum polling site also mentioned the pandemic as a primary issue in the election. Some, like Mahoney, were dissatisfied with the lack of a national response to the crisis. Others said they worried what the continuing instability will mean for the nation’s economy.

At 4 p.m. the polling place at Bartley Ranch Park’s Western Heritage Center was doing a steady business. The wait time was less than 30 minutes.

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: Taryn Willis and Dylan Jones at Bartley Ranch Park.

Trump popular at Bartley Ranch

Dylan Jones qued up with his fiancé, Taryn Willis.

“I voted for the first time four years ago and I voted for Trump,” Jones said. He’s sticking with the president this year. “Uncle Don has got my vote,” he said. Why? ““No more bullshit,” he said. “I saw it on a banner on the way here.”

Adrian Buyten wearing his Trump mask.

Adrian Buyten of Reno also was in line at Bartley Ranch Tuesday afternoon. He wore an orange mask over his mouth and nose that resembled the lower half of a person’s face.

“It’s a Trump mask,” he said. “You’d recognize him if I was wearing the MAGA hat.” He offered to go get the red chapeau to complete the impersonation. But that would be electioneering at a polling site and wouldn’t be allowed. He didn’t fetch the hat.

The mask also apparently violated the state’s electioneering law, which prohibits advocating for a candidate within 100 feet of a polling place. Poll workers didn’t say anything about it while Buyten was in line, possibly because it wasn’t obviously the visage of the president. He walked into the Heritage Center to cast his ballot.

He was not asked who he voted for.

UPDATE: The Washoe County Registrar of Voters office Nov. 4 announced that the final number of in-person Election Day voter turnout of 21,512 people included 5,197 voters registered as Democrats; 7,454 as nonpartisan/3rd party; and 8,861 voters registered as Republican.

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