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Commissioners shoot down polling locations, have to pass a second vote to proceed

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‘We are literally taking away one of the voting locations.’

Tempers flared Tuesday as Washoe’s Board of County Commissioners struggled through a vote to acknowledge a list of polling locations for the June primary election. The initial vote on what was supposed to be an easily passed consent agenda item failed in a 2-2 vote after Commissioners Jeanne Herman and Mike Clark voted against the item. 

State law, however, requires polling locations to be acknowledged—not approved—by the commission. Assistant District Attorney Mary Kandaras said commissioners didn’t need to approve of the locations to meet their legal obligations, but they did have to acknowledge the list of polling locations with an affirmative vote. Without acknowledgment of the list, voting at any of the locations wouldn’t be allowed. 

They had to try again. The second vote on the item passed 3-1, with Commissioner Herman voting against the acknowledgment. 

Herman’s and Clark’s first round of nay votes came after Tracey Hilton-Thomas, a public commenter and political rival of Commissioner Clara Andriola, levied accusations of potential electioneering and ethics violations related to the county’s planned polling location at Red Hawk Resort in Sparks.

Washoe County Commissioner Clara Andriola.
Washoe County Commissioner Clara Andriola.

Hilton-Thomas, who often provides public comment and has been critical of many of the county’s election-related activities, alleged that the Red Hawk polling location was also the campaign headquarters for “a candidate” running in the election. She didn’t name the candidate, but later in the meeting, Andriola said she had office space at the site.  

Hilton-Thomas urged commissioners to remove the site as a polling location and called it “a blatant attempt to interfere with our primary election in such a shameless manner.” She also threatened to file ethics complaints and election violations against any commissioners who voted to approve the location.

Before the vote, Assistant DA Kandaras said she’d spoken to Commissioner Andriola about the office at Red Hawk, how it’s used and what activities might be taking place there on election day. She said that since there will be no campaign signage or political activity it’s her opinion there are no legal issues with the site as a polling location. 

She added that if voters or commissioners had an issue with the location of Andriola’s office they could file a complaint with the ethics commission, though she said she saw no ethics violation.

Despite Kandaras’ opinion, Commissioners Herman and Clark first voted against acknowledging the list of locations. 

“This is a really irresponsible vote by the board,” said Commission Chair Alexis Hill. “I am very discouraged and concerned about this. I would like to see us vote again on this and try to think with clearer heads. We’ve heard from the DA that this is not a concern. Deciding that you have a problem with a commissioner and their office location—that is not appropriate.” 

Following those comments, Clark persisted and requested the Red Hawk location be removed from the list of polling locations. 

Hill said that would be disenfranchising voters.

Interim Registrar of Voters Cari-Ann Burgess said sample ballots with the list of polling locations have already gone to print and taking any of the locations off the list would be an issue. 

“It also makes it so some of our voters—we are literally taking away one of the voting locations,” she said. “Come this fall, we can absolutely take it out. It does not need to be a polling location for the general election. But for the primary right now, we already have things in print.” 

Burgess said removing the location this late in the process would also create confusion for voters. 

Throughout the discussion Kandaras repeatedly urged commissioners to vote to acknowledge the list of polling locations to meet their legal requirements.

“Since my name continues to get thrown around … It is an office,” said Commissioner Andriola, who spoke up after remaining silent through most of the conversation. “There is absolutely no signs, there will be no signs, there will be no activity during any voting dates, either early voting or on June 11. It’s an office and that is it.”

Following Andriola’s affirmation and Kandaras’ urging, Clark said he would change his vote to ensure ballot printing could continue. 

“I’ll take her at her word and I’ll change my vote,” Clark said.

Herman voted against approving the list a second time.

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

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