In long Nevada early voting lines, enthusiasm and a sense of election's high stakes

Droves of Nevada voters came out to the polls for the first day of in-person early voting in a divisive election that some characterized as one of the most important of their lifetimes.

Lines in Washoe County and Clark County moved steadily throughout the day on Saturday, with voters showing up early in the morning to cast their ballots and ensure their votes were counted in the 2020 election.

As of Friday afternoon, 132,560 ballots had been returned, or about 7 percent of those mailed out to active registered voters in the last few weeks. Of those cast, 79 percent have been accepted with the rest still going through the verification process or requiring a signature cure. 

Nevadans have a history of high turnouts for in-person early voting — the last two presidential elections saw 69 percent of the overall turnout coming from early voting, with only 8 percent of votes cast in 2012 and 6.5 percent in 2016 of those being mail votes. This is the first general election in which Nevada mailed ballots on such a large scale, and it comes on the heels of a mostly mail-in primary election.

Many of the voters donned colorful masks and festive outfits to mark the occasion. Some showed up to cast their ballots as soon as they possibly could. The Nevada Independent interviewed early voters in Washoe and Clark County. These are some of their stories.

Voters cast their ballots at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Gym on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)
Ray Benally waits in line to cast his ballot at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Gym on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)

Ray Benally, 70, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Gym

Ray Benally, a Navajo tribe member and retired mechanic, moved to Nevada after marrying his wife, who is Paiute. Banally explained that he comes out to vote every year, but this year felt especially important. 

“You don’t want to continue what we’ve been doing for four years, going in the wrong direction,” Benally said. “Alienation with other countries, with citizens here and bringing out the worst in people.”

Benally said his top issues as a voter are health care, funding cuts hurting tribal communities and climate change. He said President Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the realities of climate change and lack of a health care plan contribute to his fears.

“[Trump] keeps telling us that he’s got a plan, but to this day, he has no plan, but he wants to eliminate what seems to be working for a lot of people,” Benally said.

Though Benally has usually voted at another location, he said he and his wife chose to vote at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony gym because it felt more inclusive. He said he wishes that there were more polling locations for Native communities.

“I think most people look at us and see us as people of color, and they immediately know who we’re not voting for and so they try to intimidate us by looking at us certain ways,” Benally said. “I guess we feel safer in our own environment.”

He chose to come out on the first day of early voting because he likes to do everything as early as possible.

“That’s just the way it is. We get up at five o’clock every morning so we can get things done,” he said. “So, along the same lines, we’re here early, hope to get done and get out of here.”

As for what he’s hoping for out of the election?

“We’re headed in the wrong direction because we shouldn’t be friendly to people who are dictators and despots and whatever you call them, and then releasing all of our alliances and getting out of the climate agreement,” Benally said. “I hope there’s a change … so at least things can look up for us.”

— Tabitha Mueller

Jorge Hernandez after casting his ballot at East Las Vegas Community Center on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Jorge Hernandez, 63, East Las Vegas Community Center

Jorge Hernandez said he voted in person because there's "no doubt about it." The retired utility worker's worries about mailing in his ballot ranged from fears of potential voter fraud to concerns that the post office would be ill-equipped to handle the flood of expected ballots for this election year.

"If you can get to a voting post, I suggest that you should," he said.

A Catholic and a registered Republican, Hernandez said he votes for candidates who align with his values, which include marriage between a man and a woman, religious rights and the 2nd Amendment. He said he voted for Republicans down the ballot.

A Las Vegas resident of 42 years who is originally from Colombia, Hernandez said he would like to see better protections to keep illegal drugs and terrorists out of the country and fewer delays for those going through the often years-long process to get legal status. He said he would also like to see DREAMers brought to the country as children get a pathway to citizenship. 

Hernandez said voting is an important opportunity for citizens to choose representatives that match their beliefs. 

"This is the best way to voice our opinion," he said. "You can complain and say what you want, but this is it. This is how we choose our political officials."

— Savanna Strott

Angeline Peterson (second from left) waits in line with friends to cast their ballots at the Downtown Reno Library on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)
Angeline Peterson's shoes on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)

Angeline Peterson, 38, Downtown Reno Library

When Angeline Peterson turned 18 in 2000, her first action as an adult was to register to vote. Her passion for voting has only increased since then.

Sporting election-themed cat leggings, shoes with “FEMALE HYSTERICAL” emblazoned across the sides in bold lettering and a brightly colored “VOTE” shirt, she showed up at the Downtown Reno Library with a cohort of friends just as the sun peeked over the mountains at 7:30 a.m. 

“I love to vote. I think it’s the most important thing we can do as American citizens. And I love to vote the first day of early voting,” Peterson said. “In years past, it’s always been pretty crowded and I figured with everything going on, that it would also be crowded. So I told my friends they had to come down at 7:30 so we could vote at 9:00 a.m.”

To motivate her friends, Peterson organized a tailgate-style breakfast event featuring get out the vote stickers, gift bags with Starbucks cards and other goodies.

Peterson’s group joked and laughed with others in line, handing out stickers and bringing energy to the other early risers.

“Since 2016, we’ve seen a lot divisiveness in American and our community,” said Meredith Tanzer, one of Peterson’s friends. “I think that we need to get out and vote so that we can curb that and see if we can make it better.”

Peterson said she was excited to vote for Joe Biden for president, but was focused more intently on local elections, where she will mainly be voting for Democrats.

“Yes, the president impacts everything that happens, but the local elections are the ones that get neglected the most,” Peterson said. “And [local elections] make the biggest difference to us as Reno, Washoe County citizens.”

The candidate Peterson is most excited to vote for is not Biden, but Washoe County Commission candidate Alexis Hill, whom Peterson has known since middle school.

“She's worked for the city, she's worked for a lot of different organizations and I think she'll bring some new life into the city of Reno,” Peterson said.

— Tabitha Mueller

Voters line up to get ballots at Whitney Community Center on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)
Brian Moore (left) and his wife Judith (right) discuss politics after casting their ballots at Whitney Community Center on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.(Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Brian, 55, and Judith Moore, 64, Whitney Community Center in Las Vegas

The first thing Judith Moore did when she became a citizen in 2006 was register to vote. Originally from the Philippines where voting is a legal obligation, Judith said she always votes and restarted the habit once she got the chance in the U.S. 

"I love to vote," she said.

Both Democrats, Judith and her husband Brian voted for Biden and believe he will win Nevada. A retired pharmacist who used to be part of the union, Judith based her prediction on the strong unions in Nevada. 

"We want Trump ... out. Shoot him to Russia!" she said, grabbing her husband's arm for support while she laughed.  

Brian said he chose to vote in-person because he was worried about his vote not being counted if he made a mistake with his ballot. He said the voting machines give him double security of seeing his vote verified electronically and on the paper receipt. 

Brian and Judith said they want people to "just vote," even if some may question the worth of their vote when Nevada has only six electoral votes and other states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio are more fought-over battlegrounds.

"I know that maybe people are discouraged here with the voting because they don't believe that this state matters, but they shouldn't think like that," Brian said. "Just take a look at the Bush-Gore back in 2000. It came down to a few votes in Florida. And even though it might not matter in the presidential race, it may matter in the local races that come down to maybe one, two votes that decide."

— Savanna Strott

Thomas Shealey waits in line to cast his ballot at the Downtown Reno Library on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)

Thomas Shealey, 63, Downtown Reno Library

Thomas Shealey is used to getting up early in the morning for his shift as a custodian and a packer at a warehouse in the area, so it wasn’t a big deal for him to wake up early and get in line around 7:30 a.m.

“It really don’t bother me getting up early, but it bothers me about who is going to be in office that’s what I got up for,” Shealey said.

Saturday was Shealey’s second time voting in an election.

“All the other times, I really wasn’t taking an interest. I would just have other things on my mind. I wasn’t really involved in what was really going on,” Shealey said. “But now, it just hit me, again, this election. So I figured I’m going to come out and try to do something about it.”

In 1965, Shealey was living in California during the Watts riots and also saw first-hand the Rodney King riots. He said he has not participated in protests, but a lot of things don’t make sense right now and he hopes getting out to vote will make things better.

“I would like to see as far as people getting treated equally, you know what I mean? And the economy could be better, a lot of things affordable,” Shealey said. “We’re supposed to go home to make things lighter for the next man.”

— Tabitha Mueller

Joe G. after casting his ballot at a voting station in the Boulevard Mall parking lot on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Joe G., 51, Boulevard Mall

Joe G. wore a white "Make America Great Again" hat with a shirt with "Trump 45 "on the back like a football jersey as he went to cast his vote for Trump and all Republican options in Las Vegas. 

"He has to win or we're in big trouble. The country's gonna go under," said Joe, who declined to give his full name.

Joe didn't vote for Trump in 2016 — he didn't vote at all. He said he hadn't paid attention to politics or the news from 2000 to 2018 for personal reasons. When he started watching the news again in 2018, he said he noticed that the media were attacking the president. 

A former casino dealer and a Catholic, Joe said that Trump is the only one standing up to liberals and said the nation has become people who don't believe in God attacking those that do. If Trump doesn't win, Joe said the country will go "full throttle socialism," which Joe said he thinks would include the elimination of the 2nd Amendment and abolishment of the police. 

 "This is the biggest election in our country's history," Joe said. "If President Trump doesn't win, like President Trump says, we will have a second Great Depression like we've never seen."

— Savanna Strott

Joseph Mattingly and his service dog wait in line at the Sparks Library on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)
Joseph Mattingly's dog wears a "Make America Great Again" hat at the Sparks Library on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)

Joseph Mattingly, 36, Sparks Library

A line of voters snaked around the outside of the Sparks Library, growing to the point where voters were waiting for close to two hours before casting their ballots.

Joseph Mattingly, 36, did not mind waiting in line with his service dog, who wore a red MAGA hat. He lives close to the library and didn’t want to cast his ballot via mail, and he said this was the easiest option for him.

Formerly in the military, Mattingly has been dealing with PTSD, so he is not currently working, but is hoping to start a local wood shop soon. He said that he has appreciated Trump's efforts to bring troops home, negotiate peace deals and assassinate the Iranian commander, Qasem Soleimani. 

Though he is registered as nonpartisan and voted for Obama in 2008, Mattingly said he was voting Republican all down the ballot this year.

“To me, it boils down to a vote for Republican is a vote for American values and a vote for Democrats is a vote for communist values,” Mattingly said.

He said that the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and Supreme Court confirmation swayed him to voting Republican, because of the games he felt Democrats were playing. He said he would also like to see term limits put in place.

“I think the bulk of the problem is the people that have been in office since the dawn of time, whether it be Mitch McConnell on the Republican side or Pelosi on the other side,” Mattingly said. “It seems to me that people that sit in Congress the longest do the least and do nothing but harm.”

Though he feels certain about the national race, Mattingly said he isn’t sure about the local races.

“As far as city council, I have no idea, so I probably just won’t vote. But the state races, I’m pretty much voting Republican all the way through at this point,” Mattingly said.

— Tabitha Mueller

Jaime Goldsmith stands in line to cast her ballot at a voting station in the Boulevard Mall parking lot on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)
Brenda Watt (right) and Peggy Thompson (left) discuss politics on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Brenda Watt, 40, and Peggy Thompson, Boulevard Mall

As Gov. Steve Sisolak gave his remarks in front of his red and blue Biden-Harris campaign bus before casting his ballot at noon, Brenda Watt and her mother Peggy Thompson listened intently. Sporting their own Biden-Harris pins, they later eagerly grabbed T-shirts and signs for the Democratic ticket that people were handing out around the early voting site.

"All [elections] are important, but this one right here is the most important one so far ever because we need to really get rid of Trump," Watt said, echoing a sentiment emblazoned on the bus that this election is a "battle for the soul of the nation."

She said that Trump is not a president "for the people" and said one of her biggest criticisms was that he downplayed the severity of the coronavirus while he knew it was deadly. 

Thompson, who declined to give her age but described herself as a senior, added that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will fight for "the little guys, the military, the seniors."

"[Politicians] all get up there and they preach a pretty picture … They tell you, 'I'm gonna do this, and I'm gonna do that.' Give them six months up in there and all bets are off and it's for them," Thompson said. "Mr. Biden and Ms. Kamala seems to be willing to stand by their word and fight for us. And that's what we need. Somebody that's not going to feed us a bunch of lies and then get up there and turn, do a 360." 

Watt said that the Black Lives Matter movement and the continued killings of African Americans at the hands of police across the nation are some of the most important issues leaders need to address. She said Trump "hasn't even tried" to address the fear African Americans have of being killed by bad police officers and white Americans.

Thompson said that racism has always been present in America, but that under Trump it's become "blatant." Neither Thompson nor Watt, who works in security for Metro, think that "all cops are bad" and don't support defunding the police, but Thompson said that Trump gives cops "license to kill" and that bad cops are "taking full advantage of it."

Both Watt and Thompson, who come from a long line of Democrats, encouraged people to vote by Nov. 3, which happens to be Watt's birthday. 

"All of you that are sitting on the fence undecided, make your mind up," Thompson said. "Every one of those votes count. So make up your mind, make a choice and get out there and do it."

— Savanna Strott