No one to vote? Nevada Democrats puzzle over empty precinct

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Scott Sonner / AP

This Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, photo, shows part of the forested area and open space at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park just west of the UNR campus. The park owned by Washoe County comprises the entire county’s voting Precinct 7321 where only one person, a park employee lives. Unbeknownst to many, 108 of Washoe County’s 555 precinct have no registered voters.

Fri, Feb 28, 2020 (2 a.m.)

RENO — What if a neighborhood precinct was voting in Nevada's presidential caucuses and nobody came?

Democrats in one county were left scratching their heads about the possibility they had stumbled onto a phantom precinct during the party's third-in-the-nation presidential contest last week.

Not only did no one cast a ballot during early voting in precinct No. 7321, but nobody from there showed up to participate at Saturday's caucus site at the University of Nevada, Reno, where hundreds gathered from six other precincts in Washoe County.

Worried about the potential for a meltdown like the one that delayed official results in Iowa, site leader Austin Daly said they were prepared for the possibility of glitches with the iPads that were used to tabulate results or other software-related emergencies.

"And I expected big turnout, but never thought there would be a precinct with zero votes," said Daly, head of the UNR Young Democrats.

Amy Travis, a Bernie Sanders supporter from a neighboring precinct, was given the task of filling in the "zeros" next to all the candidates’ names in precinct 7321.

But she thought it was strange. She looked up a map of the precinct on her cellphone and found it consists entirely of a 600-acre county park just west of the Reno campus.

“I had to call state party headquarters and they had to transfer me to someone else to figure it out,” Daly said.

It turns out there is one registered voter who lives at the lone residence in the precinct: a park employee.

The employee didn't return messages from The Associated Press seeking comment. Robert Holland, ranger of Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, confirmed the employee lives at the residence that's part of an old frontier ranch homestead, which can be rented for weddings and other special events.

State party officials determined the precinct's lone delegate would be recorded as "uncommitted" at the precinct caucus level but does not advance to the next round at the county convention.

“The delegate just goes away,” party spokeswoman Molly Forgey said Thursday.

Having few or no registered voters in precincts is not as unusual as it sounds in sparsely populated Nevada. Unbeknownst to many, state election law caps the maximum number of active registered voters per precinct at 3,000, but there is no minimum.

In fact, 108 of Washoe County's 555 precincts have no registered voters, county Registrar of Voters Deanna Spikula said Wednesday. The areas are designated as precincts partly because of the potential for future development or construction of even a few new houses in a rural area.

Washoe County covers more than 6,500 square miles stretching from Reno to the northwest corner of Nevada — an area more than three times the size of Delaware.

“Every piece of land within the county is assigned to a precinct, whether people live there or not — just wild horses and jackrabbits," Spikula said.

There are even 72 of 1,146 precincts with no voters in Clark County, which is Nevada's most populated and includes Las Vegas. Joe P. Gloria, the county's registrar of voters, said the voter-less precincts in and around Las Vegas commonly include airports, drainage basins and areas beneath freeway interchanges.

Forgey, the state party spokeswoman, said she wasn't aware of a precinct with no voters causing confusion or concerns at any other caucus sites.

Wayne Thorley, deputy secretary of state for elections, said he didn't immediately have the total number of voter-less precincts available statewide but confirmed that individual precincts must be established “to cover every part of the state.”

“There are certain areas, particularly in urban areas, where nobody will ever live,” he said. “It happens a lot when cities annex new areas, and it creates these weird no-man lands.”

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