VIRGINIA CITY — If you want to vote in the upcoming general election in this former mining boomtown you might have to go to jail first.
Early voters in much of Storey County are voting in the former jail of the city’s historic county courthouse. It will be in use on Election Day on Nov. 8 as well.
“It’s our chance to show off the slammer,” said county Clerk-Treasurer Vanessa Stephens. “We thought it was a good chance to showcase this county treasure.”
On a quiet Friday morning early voters were filtering in to cast their ballots, some choosing to use the voting machine placed in an actual former cell, iron bars and all.
Stephens and Deputy Clerk-Treasurer Dore Nevin were in the central jail area, signing in voters and collecting the voting cards after the ballots had been cast.
The jail on the bottom floor of the Storey County Courthouse was in use for its intended purpose from 1877 to the 1980s. The two-tiered cellblock still has remnants of its former use, including a bed frame and mattress in one cell. It also has some art on the wall left by a former occupant, date unknown.
Stephens said the space became available when the Silver State Peace Officers Museum housed in the jail closed. The jail is in the process of being turned into a new county museum. In the meantime, it makes a perfect location for voting despite the atmosphere.
Larry Walker, who drove up from the Virginia Highlands to vote early, loved the idea.
“Where else but Virginia City can you vote in a jail cell,” he asked, after casting his ballot on an electronic voting machine.
Walker said he was relieved to vote because it allows him to ignore the cacophony coming from the presidential race, although the phone calls to his home won’t stop until Election Day.
Walker said he is a registered Republican, but “that’s going to change.”
“I’m going to register as an independent,” he said. “I’m tired of all the partisanship.”
Virginia City sprang up as a boomtown following the 1859 discovery of the famed Comstock Lode, the first major silver deposit found in the United States. At the city’s peak of population in the mid-1870s it had an estimated 25,000 residents.
The town, 26 miles southeast of Reno, was a temporary home to famed journalist, author and humorist Mark Twain beginning in 1862.
The courthouse, on B Street, was built after a previous courthouse was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1875. When completed in 1877 for about $117,000, it was the most costly courthouse in Nevada.
Stephens, a resident of the colorful mining community, said early voting is strong this year.
Turnout had reached more than 500 of the 2,900 active registered voters in the county, she said. The first day of early voting saw 206 total voters in Virginia City and at a second site at the community of Lockwood. Early voting will continue through Friday in Storey County and across Nevada.
Stephens said voters appear to enjoy the experience and some wait in line to use the voting machine in the cell.
“It’s been fun,” she said.
Contact Sean Whaley at email@example.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.