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Thousands turn out for first day of early voting in Nevada caucuses

Updated February 16, 2020 - 9:52 am

Nevada Democrats turned out in force on Saturday for the first day of early voting in the Democratic presidential caucuses, filling libraries, schools, businesses and community centers to help pick the party’s 2020 nominee.

Some Las Vegans faced a quick, simple process, while others in Henderson and Summerlin found themselves mired in huge lines and long wait times. In all, more than 11,800 voters had participated as of 5 p.m. Saturday, the Nevada State Democratic Party reported.

In Clark County, early voting locations began welcoming people around 10 a.m. Early voters are asked to fill in their top three to five choices for the nomination on a paper ballot and place it into a secure box.

Dennis and Kate Crawford were among those early voters, choosing to throw their support behind Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at the Steelworkers Local 4856 union hall in Henderson.

Their decision stemmed from Kate Crawford’s experience with nationalized health care. She had to go outside of the United States to have a brain tumor operated on when several U.S. doctors declined the surgery, and her insurance company refused to pay for chemotherapy treatment.

She said she still has major health issues.

“His views line up with my views on pretty much everything, but it’s the (Medicare for All) that is No. 1 for us,” Dennis Crawford said.

Not everyone had an easy time at the early caucuses.

Voters at Coronado High School in Henderson faced long lines and waits of two hours or more as Saturday morning stretched into the afternoon.

In Summerlin, Cameron Burnham waited in line for two hours at Palo Verde High School before leaving to take his chances at Temple Sinai.

“We went and sat in an auditorium, but new people would cut in front of you, and people began to yell and get really angry at each other,” Burnham said. “I eventually ended up leaving (without filling out a card). I want to try again, but it’s hard to say if I’ll go tomorrow.”

A new rule on preferences

The state party told voters Saturday they must make at least three choices or their voting card won’t be counted.

If a voter would like to only select one candidate, he or she could select “uncommitted” as the second and third choices.

Voters signed in and filled out a paper preference card, which they will use to select their top three to five candidates.

According to the party, those ballots will then be transferred to several hubs, electronically scanned and stored. They will be counted based on the voters’ precinct locations during the Feb. 22 caucuses. If a voter’s first choice doesn’t get enough support to be considered viable, the vote is recorded for the next viable candidate on their list.

Problems in Henderson, Summerlin

At Temple Sinai in Summerlin, it took hours for people to vote because of massive turnout. Hundreds of people showed up, with overflow parking having to stretch across the street to Becker Middle School.

“This was not anticipated,” said Michael Weiss, president of the Red Rock Democratic Club. “I think part of what facilitated this is what happened in Iowa and people wanting to avoid the chaos of the caucus.”

Weiss said he arrived at the temple and found people waiting in line at noon, an hour before it opened. He and other volunteers were shocked at the flood of people who showed up throughout the afternoon.

With seven volunteers and six iPads to check voters’ registration, many caucusgoers waited more than three hours to caucus, but he said people were mostly understanding, and many stepped up to help out.

“We need at least double the amount of people and more iPads,” Weiss said.

Allen Gelfius — and many other voters at the temple — said he was frustrated by the delays. In his view, it showed why the party should move to a primary system.

Janet Savlli showed up to vote at the temple and said it took about three hours to caucus. Despite the long wait, she was glad to participate.

“I’m proud to be here, proud to vote and proud to see a lot of people here,” Savlli said. ”It was great. Great to be American.”

Lori Snipper said she was very thankful for the opportunity to vote early because she has to work on the day of the caucus. She did say, though, that she experienced some long waits to vote Saturday. She started out at Palo Verde at 10:30 a.m., but the line was very long.

She went for a walk with her acquaintances, came back, and the line hadn’t budged.

She then went to Temple Sinai, which opened at 1 p.m. By 2:15 p.m. the lines were still very long, and someone told her there were no lines at SEIU Local 1107 at 2250 S. Rancho Drive. She showed up there and voted in a matter of minutes.

It took Ted Workman more than two-and-a-half hours to have his preferences counted at Coronado in Henderson. He said he believes a primary election would be more efficient.

“But we’ve got to stand in line like this because this is what Trump (supporters) did,” he said. “If we want to get him out, we’ve got to go through this.”

Voters at the Henderson AFL-CIO union headquarters faced waits of around 90 minutes. The wait was 45-60 minutes at the Steelworkers union hall.

Pamela Szklarski explained the she and her mother, Eileen Murphy, were picking former Vice President Joe Biden as their top choice. As they waited near the front of the line at Steelworkers Local 4856 in Henderson, they admitted they had not come with second and third choices, as required.

“Right now this country is a joke to the rest of the world,” Szlarski said. “Joe knows the world leaders and knows how to get in there and smooth over things with other countries. Donald Trump has made this country a joke.”

Gay and Lesbian Center

Voters at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada faced a slight afternoon delay after a man suffered a medical emergency during the early caucuses and had to be carried out on a stretcher.

Fran Curcio showed up at the center Saturday morning with 10-year-old Holland Hemmings, so that Holland could watch Curcio vote, offering an in-person civics lesson.

“I’m here to early vote and do my civic duty,” Curcio said. “There were a lot of people here. There was a line out the door.”

Curcio said she was in and out in under an hour.

“We both know who we are here for, don’t we Holl?” Curcio said.

“Bernie Sanders,” Holland chimed in. “He stands up for people.”

“He stands up for the people who are vulnerable in this country, and that’s important to us,” Curcio said.

Scott Cairns caucused for former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and businessman Tom Steyer after meeting both men at his church.

“They both came as communicants rather than politicians, so I came out to vote for both of them,” Cairns said.

He said early caucusing “seemed a little disorganized, but it was less disorganized than the caucuses were four years ago.”

Carmen Turner showed up early, at 9:50 a.m., readying for doors to open at 10 a.m.

“We need a drastic change in how the country is going,” Turner said. “And I would like to be a part of that change.”

Turner really wanted to vote for Andrew Yang, but he dropped out of the race earlier in the week.

“So, in lieu of him, I went to Bernie,” she said.

Gov. Steve Sisolak showed up with his wife, Kathy, at 11 a.m. and greeted voters. He then stood in a long line with his wife for about 40 minutes before they both cast their votes.

“It was easy,” Sisolak said. “Everyone was so polite and so accommodating. I can’t be more complimentary of the staff and the volunteers who were exceptionally well trained. I’m really proud of them.”

Sisolak said he was encouraged by reports of long lines of voters indicating a strong turnout.

“It is great,” the governor said. “All over the state we’ve got people standing in line. We’ve made the process as accessible and as inclusive as it could possibly be.”

The governor said he anticipates no tech problems like those experienced in Iowa.

“Iowa is Iowa. They are done, and our focus is on Nevada,” Sisolak said. “I have the utmost confidence in the party and the volunteers. … These folks have worked for months to get us this far, the volunteers and the paid staff, to have the caucus run smoothly. It’s going smoothly thus far …and I’m confident it’s going to work out.”

Sisolak said he wasn’t going to endorse before or during the caucuses, but he encouraged all the Democratic candidates “to get out and meet the citizens of the state of Nevada.”

East Las Vegas Library

Ernesto Badillo was one of the first voters in line at the East Las Vegas Library. He was able to get in and out in about 35 minutes, including a 20-minute delay in which Nevada Democratic Party volunteers prepared a room for early voters.

“This was easy stuff,” Badillo said. “Like going to school, which was a long time ago for me.”

Badillo said he was torn between Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren but ultimately ranked his three preferences as Sanders, Warren and Biden.

Carleen Marinez brought a copy of “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King to read as she waiting in line for the early caucuses. She did not want to share who she’d be caucusing for, but she said she was pleased with the offering of an early voting option.

“I hate the (traditional) caucuses,” she said. “It takes too long, and there’s all these kids yelling at me. One time, these kids yelled at me to move and I did, and I’m not even sure who I caucused for.”

Debra and Patrick Murphy said the location probably needed a few more volunteers and recommended the party send some of the registration paperwork to each voter before the next election to save some line time.

They both filled in cards for Biden, Steyer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, in that order. They are hoping for a Biden-Klobuchar ticket, Patrick Murphy said.

Culinary union

Christy Dulley waited about 45 minutes to vote at Culinary Local 226’s union hall. When she did cast her vote, she submitted Sanders as her top choice, followed by Buttigieg. She voted “uncommitted” for her required third choice.

Dulley said she caucused in 2016 but found the process time-consuming. She said early voting is “much-needed.”

“Because I feel like a lot of people don’t have the time to commit to a full-day event to caucus,” she said.

Sherry Strothers said registration at the union hall took about five minutes per person. She said her top choice for the Democratic nominee was Warren, but beating Trump in the general election is the most important thing for her.

“Vote blue no matter who,” she said. “I don’t give a damn who gets the nomination. That’s who’s getting my vote.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Rep. Susie Lee, both D-Nev., made public comments ahead of early voting opening at the union hall.

“This is about our families, it’s about our children’s future, this is about this country and who we are and the values and what we stand for,” the senator said.

Neither the senator nor the congresswoman would say who they were supporting during the nominating process.

Steyer, who had mariachis and a taco truck set up outside the union hall, stopped by the location to shake hands and speak with voters.

Chinatown Plaza

Nate White and his wife, Brittany, tried to cast early votes at Sierra Vista High School on Saturday afternoon but left for Chinatown Plaza. They ended up waiting about two hours to vote in Chinatown, where dozens of people filled a plaza.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., shook hands and spoke with those waiting in line to vote.

“The turnout level shows Democrats are enthusiastic, which I find very encouraging,” she said. “But it also kind of challenges our caucus system so we’ve got to be sure we do it right.”

Early voting continues through Tuesday at sites throughout the Las Vegas Valley.

Contact Rory Appleton at RAppleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Glenn Puit, Blake Apgar and Marvin Clemons contributed to this story.

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