For the last two weeks, staff at the Washoe County Registrar of Voters Office have been grinding.
Assistant Registrar of Voters Heather Carmen says that’s because this election is already shaping up to see an all-time high voter turnout.
“We’re going to hit past the primary numbers, that’s for sure,” she said. “I know we’re probably well over 90,000 mail in ballots that have been received. Plus, probably approximately 75,000 people have appeared to vote in person.”
That’s almost 80% of total ballots cast in Washoe County during the entire 2016 presidential election — with nearly a week until Election Day.
Voter turnout is also trending up around the state, largely due to a new law that sent mail-in ballots to active, registered voters because of the pandemic.
As of Thursday, Oct. 29 more than 900,000 Nevadans had already cast their ballot.
“I believe we’re gonna smash the number from 2016,” Carmen said.
The projections are so high, Carmen said, that Washoe County invested in a new sorting machine to help speed the process along.
“We noticed during the primary that it was very labor-intensive to do it manually,” she said.
The sheer volume of ballots coming in is one challenge. But then ballot-counters have to follow a very particular workflow to get them counted.
“There’s a process to opening a ballot. You know it’s not just, ‘Oh, I’m taking a letter out of an envelope.’ You have to do it in a very specific way,” Carmen said.
Despite the unusual demands of conducting a presidential election in the midst of a pandemic, Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Wayne Thorley expects unofficial results to be available quickly.
“The goal is to be mostly caught up with the counting of mail ballots,” he said.
That’s possible, because county registrars are allowed to start counting votes 15 days in advance — although the tallies can’t be released until voting has officially closed.
For those who prefer in-person balloting, Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell offered some words of advice about reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
“Early voting is a way to prevent having to be in line on Election Day,” she said. “We anticipate long lines, so if you’re able to vote early that’s something that I think can help you and the community, as well as the poll workers.”
Dr. Curry-Winchell also stressed the importance of keeping six feet of distance from other people. Washoe County’s early voting locations and polling places are set up to allow for the proper COVID-19 safety measures.
But Dr. Curry-Winchell also assured Nevadans it was still worth showing up to the polls.
“Voting has never been more important,” she said. “I think we can all do our part to stay safe.”
Voters will still be able to return their ballots until November 3, as long as they’re postmarked by election day. They can also be dropped off in person.
But Friday is the last day for early in-person voting — which also happens to be a state holiday.
Carmen urged Washoe County residents to take advantage of the coincidence.
“If you have Nevada Day off, go out and vote,” she said.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.