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Will Southern Nevada's Minority Voters Turn Out This Fall?

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(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

In this June 9, 2020, file photo, a sign indicates where mail ballots may be dropped off as people wait in line at one of a few in-person voting places during a nearly all-mail primary election in Las Vegas.

COVID-19 is hitting some minority groups hard, and the impact the pandemic will have on this year’s election is still very uncertain.

When it comes to mail in-ballots racial and ethnic minority groups are worried that their votes will be contested and not counted. These groups are also the most at risk for contracting and dying from COVID-19.

Will LatinX, Black, Asian Americans, or Native Americans trust the mail-in system or will they be casting your vote in-person?

Lawrence Weekly has been the County Commissioner of District D since 2007. He’s the first African American to chair the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority and represents the historic West Side and most of North Las Vegas.

He said he blames the media for concerns about voting this November.

"Hearing a lot of the reports, hearing about some of what we consider voter suppression type tactics that are out there," he said.

Weekly said people are concerned that their ballots won't get to the election department.

"There are folks out there who are gassing the situation up that there will be shenanigans, as we call it, at the post office," he said, "Folks aren't waiting around for something to happen. There is a lot of strategies that are taking place in a lot of communities to ensure that folks' votes get counted."

Support comes from

Weekly said he is going to participate in the November General Election and he is going to do what he can to get other people to vote as well. He said many people don't vote because they feel like their vote is pointless.

"We're beating the pavement. We're letting folks know - your vote does matter," he said.

The commissioner said even if he has to drive someone to a polling site to make sure they cast a ballot - he will.

Claytee White will be doing just that on Election Day. White is the director of the Oral History Project at UNLV Libraries.

She said she will be voting in-person on November 3 and after she's done she'll be taking other people to the polls.

White doesn't believe minority voters, especially Black voters, didn't distrust the post office until recent changes to the agency.

"It is only because it has been interfered with, recently," she said, "It is only because we have an administration that has tampered with it that is causing some people to be a little hesitant."

The history of suppression of Black voters in the United States is well documented. States and counties instituted poll taxes and other deterrents to stop access to the polls. 

White said in the southern state she grew up in a jar of jellybeans was placed at the office where you had to register to vote and those who wanted to register had to accurately guess the number of jellybeans before they were allowed to register.

She believes the long fight for voting rights and the pride many Black people have of the right to vote is why many will choose to vote in-person this November.

"We have been through all kinds of shenanigans in this country and we're not going to allow that to stop us," she said, "Voting is something that is a right that we value and to have that right tampered with in a way that people try to take it away from minority communities, that's absurd."

White said nothing is going to stop Black communities from exercising their right to vote, including a global pandemic. 

"There is no fear greater than the fear of not being able to vote," she said.

Kenadie Cobbin-Richardson is the executive director of Nevada Partners, which advocates for residents of Las Vegas' historic West Side.

She said she doesn't believe concerns from minority communities about mail-in ballots are issues of distrust in the post office. She said many people are concerned about the election department. 

"For me, it's not about not trusting the mail system," she said, "It's actually when it gets to the election department what will happen to my vote? Will I be disqualified because of my signature. Will I be disqualified because it comes in later? Mail service sometimes from minority communities or low-income communities are a little bit slower and not as reliable."

Cobbin-Richardson said it is vital for the Black community to get out and vote.  

"It is really important that we not get distracted by all of the rhetoric that is surrounding us and it really just causes more opportunity for people to get confused," she said, "We have to get out there and vote whether or not you are mailing in, going to the polls, or however you feel comfortable that is what you have to do."

There is a concern among a lot of different communities that when the eviction moratorium is lifted on September 1 many people will be out of their permanent homes and won't have an address for the election department to mail their ballot.

Cobbin-Richardson said people in that situation can use Nevada Partners' address as their address to get a ballot. She suggested people call 702-844-8000 or email them at info@nevadapartners.org to get information.

"We will take in their ballots, have them vote, and then also make sure it gets to either the ballot box by mail or during poll day," she said.

Allowing someone else to take your ballot to a dropoff location or mail it for you is one of the provisions in the bill passed by the Legislature, during the special session.

It is just one part of the new law that Sondra Cosgrove, the president of the League of Women Voters, says improves voting in the Silver State.

"The process that we have from AB4, which was the law passed during the special session, is building redundancy into this election," she said.

For instance, if someone is nervous about using mail-in voting, they can in-person vote. She suggests people who choose that option vote early to avoid crowds. 

Those in a high-risk category for the virus can use the mail-in balloting, she said, and have a trusted individual drop it off for you.

"That is what I'm liking about the process that we have is that no matter how you're feeling there's a system that should allow you to exercise the franchise and not be worried," she said.

In addition, Cosgrove noted that Nevada ranks among the best states when it comes to the integrity of its election system. 

And as for the charges that fraud is rampant with mail-in balloting, she said there is little proof of that in Nevada.

Cosgrove noted that ballots are barcoded and sent directly to particular voters. When a ballot is sent back to the election department, it is scanned and double-checked to make sure all the information matches.

Guests

Lawrence Weekly, commissioner, Clark County Commission; Sondra Cosgrove, Professor at College of Southern Nevada and the President of the League of Women Voters; Claytee White, Director of Oral History Research, UNLV Library; Kenadie Cobbin-Richardson, Executive Director, Nevada Partners

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