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Big turnout, but long lines at Nevada polls draw complaints

June 11, 2020 GMT
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People wait in line at one of a few in person voting places during a nearly all-mail primary election Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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People wait in line at one of a few in person voting places during a nearly all-mail primary election Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada’s primary election conducted mostly by mail for the first time due to the pandemic produced a bigger turnout than usual but drew complaints and questions from voters in long lines at the few polling places operating Tuesday.

Reno’s Lily Baran, who waited 90 minutes to be the last voter at Washoe County’s single polling place, asked why officials offered so few polling places.

“I can go and play blackjack at how many places? And how many places can I vote? That just seems a little weird,” Baran said.

Eric Ellis said he waited in line for more than five hours at the county election office in North Las Vegas.

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“I don’t know whether to be excited about it because there is such a great voter turnout or frustrated because this is so poorly organized,” Ellis said.

State election officials focused on the former.

“I’m very happy with how the election went,” said Wayne Thorley, deputy secretary of state for elections.

“Most voters in Nevada before this election had never voted by mail,” he told The Associated Press Wednesday. “Turnout is way up compared with previous years,”

In Clark County, with more than 1.3 million voters, election officials operated three polling places, down from 172 in the 2018 primary.

In Reno, where lines at one point were nearly three hours long, officials encountered more delays when they had to empty the polling place multiple times and sanitize them after accommodating voters who refused to wear masks or have their temperatures taken.

Some voters said they liked the convenience of voting by mail and likely will do it again.

“It’s so easy to do it. There’s no line,” said Kristin Swanson, 42, of Sparks.

Thorley estimates a turnout of 27% compared to the typical 20%.

Only about 2% of ballots were cast by voters in person on election day — fewer than 10,000 statewide, he said. About 98% either returned them by mail or went to a ballot drop-off location — “meaning those voters didn’t wait in any line.”

“So, there was overwhelmingly positive support for vote by mail,” he said. “That’s a good thing to take away from this.”

Thorley said current plans call for a normal November general election with the usual number of voting locations statewide. If another mail-in election is necessary, he anticipates counties would provide more polling locations.

Washoe County Registrar of Voters Deanna Spikula said Wednesday she doesn’t expect the county to only offer one polling place in the general election.

“We won’t be seeing this hopefully again in November. We’re very hopeful the slow of the spread of the virus will continue to decline in our region so we won’t have any need to do an all mail-in election,” she said.

For the first time, the state mailed the equivalent of absentee ballots to voters whether they requested one or not to limit the risk of spreading the coronavirus at polls. Voters had two weeks to vote early in person.

Clark County mailed ballots to every voter registered there. In all other counties, ballots were mailed only to “active” voters, which are generally those who participated in one of the past two federal elections or recently updated their registration.

Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria said in a statement Wednesday the long lines “were not acceptable.”

“Honestly, we did not expect as many people would need replacement ballots. Our staff did a great job and we sincerely appreciate the voters’ patience. While we expect the November election will have regular in-person voting, no matter what it looks like we will do better,” he said.

Election officials delayed any results until early Wednesday morning to allow hundreds still in line when the polls closed to cast ballots.

Steve Connolly, the last voter to cast a ballot at the Paradise Recreation Center in Las Vegas, said when he finally cast his ballot at 3 a.m. Wednesday, election workers took his photograph to mark the moment.

“I definitely feel like, in line, there were a lot of people talking about it,” Connolly said. “I stayed because I wasn’t going to give up.”

The top-ticket races that voters were deciding included contests four U.S. House seats. The incumbents — three Democrats and a Republican — easily sailed through their primary challenges. The AP has not declared a winner in the three Republican and one Democratic contests for those seeking to take on the incumbents in November.

More results are expected to be released Thursday morning.

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Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, Sam Metz in Carson City and photographer John Locher in Las Vegas contributed to this report. Sonner reported from Reno.