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Turnout high for early voting in Las Vegas city elections

Turnout in Las Vegas’ city elections is heading toward levels not seen since 1999, and — naturally — each of the three leading mayoral campaigns considers that good news for their candidate.

After the first six days of early voting, 5,906 ballots were cast at Las Vegas polling sites, and a spike is expected this weekend because early voting heads to Sun City Summerlin, which is known for voter turnout.

That’s higher than the first full week of early voting in 2003 and 2007, when Mayor Oscar Goodman easily won re-election. He was first elected in 1999, and while day-by-day early voting information is not available for that year, it’s expected that turnout will match the nearly 50,000 votes cast in the primary election then.

“I’ve been on 50,000 the whole time, but now I’m more comfortable with that,” said Jim Ferrence, who is managing the campaign of Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown.

It’s a strong possibility, agreed Gary Gray, campaign manager for Chris Giunchigliani, also a county commissioner. There are 18 candidates in the mayoral race.

“Instead of two well-funded campaigns, you have four or five that are really putting something into it,” Gray said.

An early Las Vegas Review-Journal poll found Carolyn Goodman, wife of the current mayor, leading the race, with Brown in second and Giunchigliani in third. Businessman Victor Chaltiel and Las Vegas Councilman Steve Ross rounded out the top five.

City elections usually get dismal turnout, sometimes in the low teens. Even 50,000 voters — which would be considered a high point — would only be 22.5 percent of Las Vegas’ 222,185 active registered voters.

Gray argued that both high and low turnout would favor Giunchigliani.

“We’ve got the only real grass-roots campaign going,” he said, and in a low-turnout race her connections to various groups would give her a boost.

But if it’s high, “I think that also benefits us, because that means we’re getting into the electorate that’s the sporadic general election voter.”

Ferrence, of Brown’s campaign, said geography comes into play. Most of Brown’s district overlaps the city and the council ward he used to represent in the west and northwest part of the city, where there are a lot of active voters. Far less of Giunchigliani’s commission district overlaps the city, and where it does — on the east side — voter participation is historically lower even than it is citywide.

“Those who have strength west of I-15 are going to run much stronger than those east of I-15,” Ferrence said. “That’s going to hurt Chris. For Larry, there’s a distinct advantage.”

Carolyn Goodman is the “wild card,” he added: “It’s still a matter of trying to catch up.”

She has wide appeal because of her husband’s popularity and her connections as founder and president of the Meadows School. A big turnout favors her, said Bradley Mayer, her campaign manager.

“The larger the turnout, the more diluted somebody’s base is,” Mayer said, be it an elected official’s core supporters or, in the case of Chaltiel, Republicans.

“We kind of straddle all those,” Mayer said. “We do so well among all the strata of the electorate.”

Still, no candidate is likely to achieve the majority needed to win in the April 5 primary. Without an outright winner, the top two finishers will move on to the June 7 general election.

Meanwhile, turnout is down so far in Henderson and North Las Vegas compared with 2009, when both cities had mayoral races on the ticket.

Through Thursday, 2,967 people cast ballots in Henderson, compared with 3,825 in the first week two years ago.

In North Las Vegas, the count was 1,419. In 2009 it was 2,320 after one week.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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