After the final voter in Nevada cast his ballot — more than eight hours after the polls closed Tuesday — election officials could have legitimately announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.”
Steve Connolly, an Elvis impersonator at the Four Queens in downtown Las Vegas, had the dubious distinction of being last in line to vote in this week’s primary election.
The polls officially closed at 7 p.m. Connolly, stuck waiting his turn at the Paradise Recreation Center, turned in his ballot at 3:01 a.m. Wednesday.
“I’ve taught my kids to vote, how important it is to vote,” Connolly said. “So they used that argument against me.”
Tuesday’s primaries were conducted mainly by mail because of the coronavirus threat. But many in Clark County who chose to vote in person were met with hours-long lines.
Wayne Thorley, Nevada’s deputy secretary of state for elections, said the delays in Clark County were largely the result of using paper ballots. Elections officials decided that voting machines would be too difficult to sterilize between voters.
As voters checked in, poll workers had to print out their ballots individually and make sure previously mailed ballots were voided, Thorley said.
It also takes longer, Thorley said, to fill out paper ballots, which for this election included a long list of judicial candidates.
On top of that, there were only three polling sites.
Initially, elections officials had planned for just a single polling place but, in response to a lawsuit, added two more sites and mailed ballots to more voters.
State Democrats released a statement Wednesday saying the problem would have “undoubtedly” been exacerbated without their intervention.
Nevada Democratic spokeswoman Molly Forgey said they are still considering legal action to ensure the November election is fair for Nevadans in case changes are again needed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As of now, however, there are no plans for a large-scale mail-in general election, Thorley said.
“Right now the plan for November is still to conduct the election under what are called normal circumstances … where any voter can request a mail ballot but otherwise they’ll vote in person,” he said.
The plan is to use voting machines in November, Thorley said. Washoe County used machines Tuesday, proving they can be implemented safely during the pandemic, Thorley said.
Thorley said he had no regrets about how the primary election was conducted.
“We were being very risk-averse, meaning we wanted to be very safe in the way we conducted the election and reduce these high-contact surfaces,” Thorley said. “Definitely not a regret, but you’re always learning and seeking to improve, and you use information that you learn to better the processes going forward.”
Thorley estimated that about 75% of the 5,000 people in Clark County who voted Tuesday could have voted early or by mail.
While some had to vote in person because they needed to register or change their address, others said they never got a ballot or didn’t trust the system. Others vote in person by preference or out of tradition.
Thorley said most people who reported not receiving a ballot in the mail probably misplaced it or accidentally threw it away.
“Most voters aren’t used to getting a ballot” in the mail, he said. “Plus, we sent the ballot out in order to give voters time and maximize participation — we sent the ballots out over a month before Election Day.”
Those who actually didn’t receive a ballot were either not registered to vote or had recently moved and not updated their voter registration, Thorley said.
“It’s also important to note that, once all is said and done, we’re going to have a little over 400,000 ballots cast this election. We may even be in the 410,000 to 415,000 range,” Thorley said. “Over 98% of the ballots were cast by voters who waited in no line. They returned it by mail or dropped it off in person and they had no wait time.”
Karla Rodriguez, unfortunately, was not one of them. She was the second-to-last person in line to vote at the Paradise Recreation Center, standing right in front of Connolly.
She arrived at 6:30 p.m. and said about 50 people behind her left over the eight hours she was there. She thought about leaving but decided to stick it out.
“I didn’t really get to the point where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this,’ until around hour seven,” she said.