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Early voting may be more difficult for voters in 3 Las Vegas wards

Updated March 23, 2019 - 6:58 pm

The Cardenas Market on Bonanza Road symbolized the importance of early voting and minority turnout during the 2016 presidential election.

Located in heavily Hispanic eastern Las Vegas, the supermarket made national news that year when a surge of early voters caused a polling place there to remain open hours after its posted closing time. In 2018, primary and general election voters could cast ballots at Cardenas on the weekend.

But during early voting for this year’s municipal primary elections, the Cardenas polling place was open on a single Monday. It isn’t the only location with a brief schedule. Most early voting centers are open for two days or less in city wards 1, 3 and 5.

Nearly two-thirds of the city’s Hispanic and black registered voters reside in these wards, which cover eastern Las Vegas, downtown and the Historic Westside. However, only one early voting site inside the wards’ boundaries, Meadows Mall, is open on weekends.

“It’s not conducive to a system that wants to get people to vote,” said Hispanics in Politics President Fernando Romero. “Cardenas is very popular, so it shouldn’t be open just one day. It should be open every day or every other day.”

Constituents in the three wards are voting not only in the citywide mayoral race this year but also in contests for the Las Vegas City Council.

‘Something to be concerned about’

This year’s 14-day early voting period, which ends Friday, is markedly different from when voters in wards 1, 3 and 5 last elected council representatives in 2015.

Every ward except Ward 6 had an early voting center open on a weekend that year. Cardenas was open on a consecutive Saturday and Sunday.

“The fact there is a decrease in early voting sites and especially weekend voting sites in those wards is something to be concerned about,” said Amy Rose, legal director of the ACLU of Nevada. “I think this is something that will impact the people in these wards in terms of their availability to early voting and whether or not they will be able to get to the polls.”

Voters are not restricted to casting a ballot at a polling place in their ward, but traveling even a few miles to reach an open voting site could be more of a problem for residents of wards 1, 3 and 5 than for those in the rest of the city. Households in those three wards have lower rates of car ownership than their suburban counterparts, according to statistics published by the city of Las Vegas.

“Any kind of small barrier will have an impact on voter turnout,” said Kenneth Fernandez, a political scientist at the College of Southern Nevada. “It’s pretty logical. The more you have to go out of your way to walk or take a bus or drive, (the more) you’re going to reduce the likelihood of voting.”

Ward 5 resident Jaimie Sturgiss drove to the Meadows Mall on Saturday morning to cast her ballot.

The insurance company employee said her work schedule prevented her from voting during the week. She didn’t mind making the trip to vote, but she said all wards should have a polling place open on the weekend for voters’ convenience.

“There are a lot of people who work the same hours I do but have a family to take care of,” she said.

Who decides?

Selecting where and when early voting sites will operate is a collaborative process between the city and Clark County.

The county, which conducts local elections, asks whether city officials want any changes from the previous municipal election, county spokesman Dan Kulin said. Sometimes a shift is unavoidable because a private business or organization stops offering to host a voting center on its property.

Las Vegas City Clerk LuAnn Holmes said early voting this year mirrors that of the 2017 municipal election because the city did not receive complaints about that year’s setup.

“If there’s somewhere we see a lack, we increase our resources,” she said.

Turnout is notoriously low for municipal elections, a trend many officials say is because city races occur in odd-numbered years, making them out of sync with county, state and federal elections.

Cities across the county are hoping to increase turnout this year with a new program allowing voters to cast a ballot in their local race at voting sites anywhere in the county, even outside their home city.

“Even if you live on the border of Ward 6 or Ward 5, you’d also have the opportunity to vote in North Las Vegas,” Holmes said. “We’d like to see higher voter turnout. We’re doing everything we can to promote that.”

Voter turnout in Las Vegas city races was at less than 4 percent when polls closed Friday, according to the Nevada secretary of state’s office. Less than 3 percent of registered voters in both wards 3 and 5 had cast a ballot.

‘That’s not close’

Elected representatives in wards 3 and 5 said Friday that they did not know their wards had no voting centers open on the weekend.

“It’s not as insidious as it might sound, but you can see there’s a flaw,” Ward 3 Councilman Bob Coffin said.

Ward 5 Councilman Cedric Crear said it is too late to make changes to early voting in the primary election, but there may be time for adjustments before early voting for the general election begins in May.

“That might be something we can discuss with the (city) clerk,” he said. “Would I like for them to be open? Sure. Hopefully we’ll still get a good turnout.”

The news was more troubling to former state Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman, a candidate for a special election in Ward 2. The special election will coincide with early voting during the city’s regular general election.

Voting centers in Ward 2 are open for only two days of early voting during the primary and general. Seaman and her family drove about 6 miles to the Rainbow Library on Friday to cast a vote in the mayor’s race.

“That’s not close,” she said. “That’s out of the ward.”

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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