Lines form in Las Vegas area after Nevada shifts to mail voting

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Wade Vandervort

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in the primary election at the Paradise Recreation Center Tuesday, June 9, 2020.

Published Tue, Jun 9, 2020 (8:41 a.m.)

Updated Tue, Jun 9, 2020 (4:40 p.m.)

Some Nevada voters were embracing the state’s first nearly all-mail primary election Tuesday brought on by the coronavirus, while others were waiting in line to cast their ballots in person and still others were sitting this one out.

Those who decided they didn’t want to vote by mail were waiting in lines for up to an hour at polls in Las Vegas and Reno but there were no reports of any serious problems.

The secretary of state’s office was reporting a typical primary turnout of between 20% and 25% statewide.

Lines formed at three sites in and around Las Vegas where people could register and have ballots printed out if they misplaced or did not receive one by mail.

Washoe County voters waited anywhere from a half-hour to 90 minutes to vote in-person at the county’s only polling place in Reno.

“It's busy,” Washoe County Registrar of Voters Deanna Spikula said. “With the paper ballots, even though the volume has been quite significant for our office, everything has run very smoothly."

“It’s been a good primary,” she said.

Nevada Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Wayne Thorley said no county had reported problems occurring at polling places to the secretary of state as of 2 p.m. He says the lines of voters was expected because only three polls were open for in-person voting Tuesday in Clark County and just one in each of Nevada’s other 16 counties.

Officials said early casting of mail-in ballots and the limited number of polling places opened were on track with past primary elections. Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said there were few delays at locations set up only for ballot drop-offs.

Jim Green of Reno said it was the first time he hasn’t voted since he cast his first presidential ballot for independent John Anderson nearly 40 years ago. The 60-year-old medical technician said he didn’t get an absentee ballot in the mail and didn’t learn until it was too late he could have voted in person on Election Day.

Ryan and Lana Caddel of neighboring Sparks said they went to a post office Monday night to personally drop their absentee ballots in the mail. They said it wasn’t because they were worried about the coronavirus or the potential for voter fraud.

“We’ve had our mail taken out of our mailbox before,” Lana Caddel said.

“This way, we’ve given our ballot to the federal government,” Ryan Caddel added.

Both are regular voters. But Ryan Caddel says he doesn’t always vote in primaries and might have skipped this one if not for the convenience of the mail-in ballot.

To let voters avoid the risks of contracting the virus while standing in long lines and using shared surfaces at polling places, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske sent absentee ballots to voters that can be mailed back or dropped off — a break from the practice of most Nevada voters who prefer to show up at the polls, typically during two weeks of early voting.

Cegavske’s office sent ballots to all active registered voters, including those who have voted in one of the past two federal elections, updated their registration or had some other contact with election officials.

Inactive voters in Clark County, the state’s most populous, were automatically mailed ballots after a legal challenge from the Nevada State Democratic Party. In other counties, inactive voters who didn’t request a ballot must show up at their polling place. Those who aren’t registered or want to change parties must now do that in person Tuesday.

Green usually votes Republican but not always. He said he has mixed feelings about mail-in balloting in general and would have been more open to it if Nevada had previously conducted elections through the mail.

“I didn’t have confidence in the secretary of state to handle the volume of mail-in ballots,” he said. “Oregon has done it for years, but they took a while to get ramped up.”

As of Monday morning, nearly 366,000 ballots had been cast in Nevada, which represents about 22.4% turnout. Two years ago, 23% of active voters participated in the primary and in 2016, turnout was 18.5%.

The top-ticket races include Nevada’s four U.S. House seats, where the incumbents — three Democrats and one Republican — are all expected to sail through primary challenges. The biggest question was who their opponents will be in November.

Two Democratic-held U.S. House seats, Nevada’s 3rd and 4th Districts, could flip to Republicans in the November general election. That’s drawn a number of GOP candidates to face off in the primary.

Republicans have six candidates to choose from in Nevada’s 3rd District, which encompasses southwest Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City and Laughlin. They include former professional wrestler Dan Rodimer and former State Treasurer Dan Schwartz.

Democrat Rep. Susie Lee was facing two challengers in the primary, but she was considered a heavy favorite.

Nevada’s 4th District, held by Democrat Steven Horsford, has drawn eight Republicans to the race, including former state lawmaker Jim Marchant and business owner and former Miss Nevada Lisa Song Sutton, who recently acknowledged she hasn’t voted in 12 years.

Horsford’s performance in the primary will be watched closely after he acknowledged having a years-long extramarital affair, but he’s not expected to face any serious challenge.

In northern Nevada, Republican Mark Amodei is expected to easily fend off two challengers to his 2nd District seat. Though Amodei is expected to win reelection in the Republican-heavy district in November, Democrats hoping to improve their numbers are lining up to challenge him.

Seven Democrats were vying to become their party’s nominee and take on Amodei, including retired mountaineer and actress Patricia Ackerman, former journalist Ed Cohen and former Obama administration official Clint Koble.

In Nevada’s 1st District, encompassing the casino-lined Las Vegas Strip, incumbent Democrat Dina Titus was expected to fend off two poorly funded challengers. On the other side of the aisle, four Republicans were seeking the seat, but only one has filed a campaign finance report and it disclosed little fundraising. Whoever wins the GOP primary will face a likely insurmountable challenge against Titus in the Democrat-heavy district.

Voters also will settle inter-party contests in nearly 30 state Senate and Assembly races and narrow the field in non-partisan races for two state Supreme Court seats, nearly two dozen family and district court judgeships, three university regent races and three Board of Education contests.

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Associated Press writers Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Sam Metz in Carson City contributed to this report.

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