Wednesday, October 29, 2008

No Voting On The Strip This Time

We all remember the hullabaloo surrounding the Nevada caucuses that took place in the ballrooms of several resorts in January. It was seen near and far as an amusing, very Vegas sideshow during the Great Obama-Clinton Struggle of 2008. God, doesn't that seem like a long time ago?

As much credit as the national press and Strip employees gave the gaming bosses for helping them participate in such a time-certain event, some workers are now grumbling that there's no Early Voting trailer set up to help them get to the polls during, before or after their work days. In 2004, there was one and MGM Mirage even ran shuttle buses to ferry employees to and fro. (The site was on an empty lot along Industrial Road behind the Mirage where an employment center for CityCenter is being built.)

Was this, MGM Mirage employees wondered, a diabolical plot by Republican and McCain backer Terry Lanni, the C.E.O., to suppress Democratic voting, seeing how Barack Obama's chances are looking a lot better than John Kerry's were four years ago?

"That’s stupid in many, many ways, including all of the effort we have put in to remind people to vote, to encourage people to vote," MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said. "Terry even sent out a letter reminding people."

Then what happened? Well, MGM Mirage and the other gaming companies got together in 2004 to set up the Early Voting trailer but, by the time they got it all arranged, the other companies dropped out. MGM Mirage had to cover the entire cost, which may have been north of $5,000, Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax said.

For all that cost and effort, results were modest in 2004. The polling places, staffed by county employees and equipped with expensive, handicap-accessible portable toilets, were open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. for the two weeks only to become among the least-used sites in the county, Lomax said. This after similarly low usage occurred in 1998, 2000 and 2002 when Early Voting polling sites were set up at the Fashion Show Mall.

Lomax gave one more reason the county decided to abandon the concept: Once word got out that the county was allowing the resorts to pay to arrange a polling place, other interest groups started clamoring for ones, too, and offering to pay. "Turnout was lousy and we also learned it was not a good idea for other people to start bidding for polling places," Lomax said. "We no longer let anyone pay for a site."

That all makes sense, but Feldman said the company probably wouldn't have bothered this year anyway. Early voting polling sites are ubiquitous and convenient all over the valley -- I voted in a supermarket 10 days ago. "There’s ample opportunity for folks when they’re off shift to go vote," Feldman said. "It's not necessary anymore for us to do this."

So that's that. It does seem to be working. The voting totals thus far have been ginormous and the Democrats certainly aren't hurting.