LAS VEGAS—The final weekend of early voting here was mostly sunny with orderly lines and most residents social distancing, but Clark County Registrar of Voters Joseph Gloria saw trouble on the horizon.
Gloria, whose office is in charge of ensuring an orderly vote and an accurate count in the craziest presidential election year in memory, calls the same scene part of “a perfect storm” riddled with poll observers flouting the rules and some voters refusing to wear a mask in the middle of a deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Stoked by surging COVID-19 infections, a fast-tracked statewide absentee ballot option and presidential prevarication on the potential for voter fraud, Gloria’s usual election anxieties are now complicated by multiple lawsuits filed by Team Trump that appear to be aimed at jamming up a voting process the registrar’s team has worked months to fine tune.
“I’m as comfortable as I can be because I have an excellent staff,” Gloria said. He also has three decades of election experience and has been registrar since 2013. After putting together an entire mail-in voting system in less than 90 days, “We learned some things in the primary and are feeling good about this cycle, but unfortunately we have people at the national level who are encouraging people to do things that disrupt the polling place and make it a challenge for us to process votes.”
He mentions no names, but President Donald Trump’s irrational vote-by-mail rhetoric, fomenting of right-wing extremist activity, and downplaying of mask wearing clearly aren’t lost on Gloria. Attempts at voter suppression come in many forms. He points out the increased presence of overly aggressive poll observers who have crossed the line from watching the process to interrupting it.
Rather than have the anti-maskers removed, and in an effort to avoid yet another lawsuit at a time the Republican Party is brooking for a legal fight in its voter suppression efforts, Gloria instead had the recalcitrant separated from the vast majority willing to follow the rules.
“We pretty much have them at every location and one point or another,” Gloria says. “We don’t want to disenfranchise these people, so we’re allowing them to come in and vote, but they have to vote on a socially distanced machine.”
The disruption of the voting process by partisan poll observers is an even greater concern. “They don’t follow the observer rules,” Gloria says. “It’s been more of a challenge this year than it’s ever been before.”
Is it an organized effort?
“I would definitely say so,” Gloria said.
Although the Nevada presidential election has produced two lawsuits filed on behalf of the president, Team Trump has failed thus far to gain much traction in the courts. The first voter fraud lawsuit was so factually sketchy it was quickly dismissed. A second was filed Friday and aimed straight at Gloria’s registrar’s office.
Just hours after the Trump campaign and the Nevada Republican Party alleged the mail-in vote count in Clark County needed to be stopped due to insufficient “observation,” Carson City Judge James Wilson declined to grant a temporary restraining order. The lawsuit names Gloria and Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske as defendants.
Listed among the plaintiffs is “volunteer poll watcher” Fred Kraus, who The Nevada Independent reported appears to be a former vice president and general counsel at the Venetian, a casino resort owned by multibillionaire GOP donor Sheldon Adelson. Wilson has scheduled an evidentiary hearing for Wednesday morning, Oct. 28.
The election process isn’t perfect, but a flaw doesn’t constitute fraud. Voter registration rolls are regularly updated, but ballot distribution isn’t without its glitches. After early voting in person at a well-organized site set up in a shopping mall parking lot in suburban Green Valley, Rita Carrillo explains that her house received an absentee ballot for her father, who has been deceased four years. Receiving the ballot was an error; casting it would have constituted fraud. Like the vast majority of people, she simply followed the rules.
“We were concerned about the potential for fraud,” Carrillo said, but she found her own experience, “very brief, better than last year’s. Everyone practiced social distancing. I think everyone was conscientious about the cleanliness.”
More than any fear of fraud or virus, Carrillo and voting partner Dalton Sackrell agreed they just wanted to “make sure we get the right person in office.”
That sentiment echoed several miles away in another early voting site assembled in a shopping mall parking lot approximately one mile from the Strip. There, Vincent Booker and his mother, Tina Carter, cast ballots in person in an effort to ensure nothing was misplaced or delayed. Any concerns they had about extremist group harassment or COVID-19 exposure were far outweighed by the gravity of the election.
“I just don’t like Trump,” Booker said, asserting the president lacks empathy in a time of crisis. “I definitely did not want my vote to get lost. I just think we need to make a change.”
Carter brought a different perspective to the voting booth. “There’s an urgency,” she said. “My thing is the pandemic. I think it could have been handled a whole lot better. I am a contact tracer, so I deal with exposures and positive results, and I feel like the president failed us as Americans, and I do need to see a change.”
There was no crowd at the East Las Vegas Senior Center, which stands in a heavily Latino neighborhood. All other concerns aside, the seniors wanted to avoid large gatherings. Through his daughter Norma Lopez’s interpretation, Fidel Lopez says in Spanish, “Being there early is better. I was worried about the crowds for health reasons.”
Beyond health concerns, the opinions of many of those who voted early make the case that the president’s vilification of the U.S. Postal Service and mail-in balloting has backfired and only inspired people to march early to the polls.
At a North Las Vegas recreation center, mother of four Marie Hansen waited 45 minutes to vote and passed the time socializing, masked and at a social distance, with her neighbors. The Trump administration’s talk of disrupting and even dismantling the mail service was all the encouragement she needed. She voted by mail in the primary, but she says, “I just felt that, for this election, I wanted to vote in person.”
Southern Nevada has a growing Latino and Asian-Pacific Island population, and the community continues to blend into one of the most ethnically diverse metro areas in the West.
Although Nevada’s active labor movement, led by UNITE-HERE/Culinary Local 226’s 60,000 members, has combined with a well organized Democratic Party campaign machine to turn the state an increasing hue of blue, the Trump campaign has demonstrated an energetic ground game that it believes is keeping the state in play.
Trump and Biden each visited the state recently, and their camps continue to send top representatives to bolster their turnout models. Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris has scheduled campaign stops Tuesday in Reno and Las Vegas.
In the parking lot of Henderson’s Galleria Mall, the Aquino family made voting a family affair. Mother Jennifer Aquino captured the sentiment shared by all, “I definitely didn’t want to have my ballot lost in the mail, and I wanted to make sure it was there on time.”