Early voting a boon for Las Vegas Strip workers

Las Vegas Strip workers don't need to travel far to cast their votes ahead of Saturday's caucuses.
Image: Early Voting Begins In Nevada Ahead Of State's Caucus Next Week
Voters line up outside Culinary Workers Union Hall Local 226 on the first day of early voting for the Nevada Democratic presidential caucuses in Las Vegas on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.Ethan Miller / Getty Images

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By Caitlin Fichtel

LAS VEGAS — Donna Kelly-Yu is a butler dispatcher at Caesars Palace who has never been able to participate in the Nevada caucuses because of her work schedule — typically 3 to 11 p.m.

She'll be able to this year, however, as the state for the first time is offering early voting ahead of Saturday's caucuses, with several locations right on the Strip. Some of the voting sites stay open late, including one at the Bellagio Hotel that runs 24 hours.

Early voting began Saturday and will go on through Tuesday. Twenty-six thousand people voted across the state in the first two days alone.

"It's very important that everyone gets out and does it," Kelly-Yu said in an interview. "This is going to protect our standard of living, our health care. We have to make a change, and to make a change we have to be right up in it."

Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents the largest segment of workers on the Strip, was influential in pushing for the nearby polling sites. That the caucuses take place on a Saturday can be challenging for the shift workers who keep the hotels and casinos running.

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Nevada is one of a handful of states with caucuses, a system that has come under scrutiny in recent years over its lack of accessibility. Fifty-six percent of Saturday's voters were first-time caucusgoers.

Bethany Khan, the union's director of communications and digital strategy, said in an interview that "the culinary union has been working with the party to ensure that there are many opportunities for shift workers to vote early."

The union, which represents 60,000 workers on the Strip, including guest room attendants, casino wait staff and chefs, has worked with the Democratic Party to ensure that some of the early voting locations are easily accessible so workers can vote either on their lunch breaks or before or after their shifts. Nonunion Nevada voters are also able to use the sites.

There are locations throughout various casinos and hotels on the strip, including the Bellagio, the Paris and the MGM Grand, in addition to the Culinary Workers Union office. The MGM and Paris locations stayed open until midnight Sunday. Several of the biggest hotels will also be open for voting on caucus day.

April Displacio, a pantry kitchen worker at the Mirage Hotel and Casino who is participating in the caucuses first time, went to the union office to vote early on Monday. She told NBC News: "I came to early-vote to make sure to get my vote in. There's plenty of time, and we need to make sure our voices are heard."

Early voters make their presidential preferences known by selecting three to five candidates on paper ballots. Voters then return the ballots and voter cards to the designated ballot boxes, which are transported at the end of the day to processing hubs where they are scanned and stored.

The paper ballot is a change from the initial plan to use an app after tech issues delayed the final results of the Iowa caucuses.

Members of the union are also encouraging others to get out and vote early by partnering with UNITE HERE, another major union representing gaming, hotel and food service industry workers.

The unions are holding multiple phone bank events where members call to encourage others to register to vote, as well as walk them through the process.

Union members help register voters and explain the early voting process at the Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas on Monday, Feb. 17, 2020.Caitlin Fichtel / NBC News

Health care is at the top of many voters' minds.

Lino Parede, a new father who is a laundry worker at Caesars Palace, said: "I just had a child a few weeks ago, and my health care and current insurance helped me pay for it. My copay was really low, so I want to be able to keep my current insurance, and I want somebody to protect it."

Members who picketed Friday afternoon with workers fighting for a contract at the Palms Casino encouraged them to turn out for early voting or on Caucus Day.

"We have culinary members mobilizing in the casinos the four early vote days, we have active phone banks where we make sure folks know where to go, and we can also register them the same day," Khan said.

Charetzayda Gonzalez, a guest room attendant at Caesars Palace, is also participating in her first caucus after having had scheduling issues in the past. She said she planned to help out with the phone banks, too.

"We need to work together and be united," she said. "This is the first time we are doing early caucusing, and it's really important for everybody to participate."