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August 29, 2014

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Big election day also a work day

A look at what it’s like to be in the trenches with campaign workers and an election official

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Tiffany Brown

Kristopher Del Campo hugs Myrna Adad after Mass at St. Joseph Husband of Mary Roman Catholic Church on Tuesday morning. A John McCain supporter and campaign worker, Del Campo said after the results were in that he would pray for President-elect Barack Obama.

Election Day in the trenches

McCain supporter Kristopher Del Campo, hugs Myrna Adad outside St. Joseph Husband of Mary Roman Catholic Church on West Sahara after attending service at the start of his election day. Launch slideshow »

Election Night 2008

McCain's Concession Speech

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  • McCain's Concession Speech
  • After Election, What's Next?
  • Dina Titus Acceptance Speech
  • Obama's Acceptance Speech
  • Jon Porter's concession
  • Shelley Berkley

Election Day meant heavy lifting and shifting emotions for campaign workers and those responsible for ensuring a fair vote. The Sun spent the day with three of them:

Kristopher Del Campo, 19, a precinct captain for the Clark County Republican Party who was a delegate to the Clark County and state Republican Conventions, would spend the day campaigning for John McCain.

Yvette Williams, 50, chair of the Clark County Democratic Black Caucus and delegate to the Democratic National Convention, just as vigorously would spend Tuesday campaigning for Barack Obama.

Ross Miller, the Nevada secretary of state, just wanted as trouble-free day as possible. He is the state’s chief elections officer.

13 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

6:25 a.m.: Yvette Willliams arrives at Desert Breeze Park to pick up door hangers for the neighborhood, which she’s been nurturing for Obama for 21 months. But other volunteers beat her to it and canvassed her neighborhood 20 minutes ago. Williams is bummed. Somebody else, she says, has taken her baby on the final day.

6:26 a.m.: Kristopher Del Campo, a second-year poli-sci major at UNLV, is reading the news on his laptop on his dining room table, then swears off the news for the rest of the day. The media are too liberal.

6:38 a.m.: Ross Miller took office less than two year ago and is the youngest secretary of state in the country. This is his first election. He desperately wants this to be a very smooth day. So here he is, watching two televisions in his fifth floor conference room in the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, waiting to go on the air live with Channel 8. It will be a record turnout, he says. In the corner: A box of Starbucks coffee and a bunch of Dunkin’ Donuts for the people who’ll be joining him today for election watch.

12 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

7:07 a.m.: Williams finds an unclaimed neighborhood where she can distribute her Obama hangers. Of the 15 homes in the subdivision, three appear to be in foreclosure. A passing motorist sees the magnetic Obama signs on her silver Land Rover and gives a thumb’s down. “Just ignore it,” Williams says.

7:30 a.m.: This isn’t good: Democrats call Miller’s office to complain that the polling place at Mountain View Elementary isn’t up and running yet. “The county shouldn’t have reported that all the polling places are open if that’s not true,” he grumbles. What’s the day going to bring?

7:44 a.m.: Any serious problems today will be resolved in Miller’s conference room. There’s Edward Garcia, an attorney for the Obama campaign; John Slezak, a McCain campaign observer, and FBI Special Agent Michael Elliott. Deputy Secretary of State Chris Lee reports that about 84 percent of Clark County’s polling stations — including Mountain View Elementary — are now up and running. The others are dealing with minor snafus. The mood relaxes.

7:53 a.m.: A distress call comes in to Miller’s office from an Obama campaign worker at the Walnut Community Center. There’s a 40-minute wait to vote. Can the county send more voting machines? Someone is dispatched to check out the problem.

11 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

8 a.m.: Del Campo takes his seat inside St. Joseph Husband of Mary Roman Catholic Church for daily Mass. He supports McCain in part because as a passionate Filipino Catholic, he opposes abortion. “I’ll pray for a McCain victory,” Del Campo says, “but if God chooses Obama, there’s a reason for it.”

8:21 a.m.: Good news for Miller. An investigator says there are now only four people in line at the Walnut Community Center, and the three voting machines are plenty since the morning rush subsided. “We’ve gone from 16 high-priority trouble tickets to one,” Miller says. “Not bad.”

10 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

9 a.m.: Williams is driving toward R. Guild Gray Elementary School — a polling place — to pound Obama signs around the campus. Along the way, her 13-year-old daughter sees a sign for Ralph Nader. Who’s he? He’s running for president, Williams says. “Now, he’s a maverick.”

9:16 a.m.: Del Campo arrives at McCain headquarters in Henderson, joining about three dozen volunteers working the phones. This is family. He’s gregarious and chatty, and people like him. Doritos, lollipops, bananas and McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches spread across tables. After one of his calls, Del Campo looks around and asks incredulously, “How can you be undecided on Election Day?”

9:19 a.m.: Miller’s office gets a call: a film crew is reportedly confronting voters, asking whether they’re citizens. Sounds like intimidation. A staff member is sent to investigate.

9:57 a.m.: Williams has finished pounding a dozen Obama signs into the ground around the perimeter of Gray Elementary. Circling back to her starting point, she discovers three of her signs are missing. “They should be knocking on doors getting people to vote,” Williams complains of the vandals. “This just isn’t fair play.”

9 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

10:15 a.m.: At Williams’ home, her husband and teenage daughter hang a giant Obama sign on the garage door. “That sign is bombin’,” Dominique says. “Is that good?” Mom asks. “Yes.”

10:28 a.m.: Word gets back to Miller’s office: That film crew is doing a feel-good piece on first-time voters.

10:50 a.m.: Williams, who organized the grass roots organization “Nevadans 4 Obama,” is confirming seven hospitality rooms at the Rio for the organization’s postelection party. “We have a family now, the Obama family,” she says. “It’s a very strong, powerful family. We’ve made friends for life. They’re as close to me as my family.”

10:54 a.m.: Del Campo mentions to his fellow McCain callers that he went to church this morning. “I’m praying really hard,” one woman says. Del Campo poses the question: “Why are half of the Catholics for Obama?” This bothers him to his core.

8 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

11:15 a.m.: Maybe Miller won’t be sweating today. Around the conference table, people are sitting back in their chairs, arms behind their heads. It’s quiet. The FBI agent is regaling the others with stories of his days on the Los Angeles gang crime unit.

11:29 a.m.: Williams checks her organization’s Web site and discovers that 190 people have R.S.V.P.’d for tonight’s party. She hopes she’s ordered enough food.

11:30 a.m.: Miller’s office gets a call from CBS in New York, tracking down a report that there were cops at three Las Vegas polling places. Calls are made. Yep, those were cops. Voting.

11:54 a.m.: Del Campo is having a hard time stifling his yawns. After more than 160 calls, he’s reached only 11 live voices.

7 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

12:07 p.m.: At McCain headquarters, lunch arrives: a veggie tray, cheese plate, chips, guacamole, hot dogs ... Del Campo says he didn’t know you can eat raw broccoli. He goes for some artichoke jalapeno dip and carrots.

12:23 p.m.: Plates of croissant sandwiches, chips and fruit are about gone in Miller’s office, and FBI agent Elliott is becoming the activities director. On a computer, he clicks to the Web site 270towin.com. and calls up a trivia quiz on election history. Which state had the closest percentage in the popular vote in the 2004 presidential election? Iowa? Wisconsin? New Hampshire? New Mexico? Miller says New Mexico. He’s right.

12:34 p.m.: Del Campo finishes the last of about 250 phone calls. He reached about 15 people. Before heading to the state party offices, he announces loudly, “We’re going to win big!” Another volunteer raises his hot dog in a toast.

6 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

1:01 p.m.: At the sight of Obama on TV, Williams screams so loud, her dogs come in from outside. The woman is giddy.

1:50 p.m.: Williams is getting ready to head to the Rio to set up for Tuesday night’s party when the mother of her daughter’s boyfriend comes over. “I’m a Republican,” she says, “but I voted for Obama.” Williams answers: “Good. We love you now.”

5 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

2 p.m.: This is going to be a big night. Del Campo is making reservations for him and his mom to attend the Republican Party’s big celebration dinner on the Strip, at Palazzo. There’s a TV on in the phone-bank room. It’s on Fox but still Del Campo asks, “Can’t we please just turn it off? We can watch tonight.” It wasn’t turned off.

2:30 p.m.: In the Republican state party office, results of early exit polling are being aired on TV. First-time voters prefer Obama in a few key states. There’s grumbling among others but Del Campo, buried in his phone, doesn’t seem to have heard the news.

2:30 p.m.: Miller’s office gets word that police headed to a Washoe County polling place to break up voters causing a ruckus. The issue was resolved, Miller is told. He nods. So far today, nothing has flustered Miller.

4 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

3 p.m.: Miller, looking very relaxed, is making rounds at local TV stations to give midday updates. “We were hoping today would be this quiet,” he remarks to someone on the set. “But I don’t think anyone really anticipated it.” He strolls right to the anchor desk, not bothering with the makeup room. Someone on the set offers him a mirror. He shrugs it off.

3:15 p.m.: Del Campo is trying to make sense of Catholic voters. “I try to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church,” he says. “It’s like there are Catholics who really believe in the teachings, and mediocre Catholics.” A nearby woman clarifies: “Catholics du jour.” Del Campo gives her a high-five. But he says he won’t judge Catholics who don’t vote for McCain because God says not to judge.

3 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

4:18 p.m.: Del Campo is still making calls. Maybe 400 by now. A voter promises he pushed the button for both McCain and Republican 3rd Congressional District incumbent Jon Porter. Del Campo hangs up and pounds his fist on the table. “Fantastic!” The next caller gives him the same information. This afternoon is going much better than this morning.

4:30 p.m.: Del Campo is done working. Time to go home and get ready for the party. Outside the state party headquarters, he hugs other volunteers. “We’re gonna do it, Kris,” someone says. “We’re gonna win.” Del Campo looks happy, enthused.

2 HOURS BEFORE POLLS CLOSE

5:05 p.m.: At the Rio, Williams is scampering all about, getting her hospitality rooms ready for the party. Obama signs are hung, the food — including all that chicken — is laid out, lights are on, and TVs are tuned to MSNBC. Others will be showing up in their party rags but she’ll stay in the same T-shirt and jeans she’s been wearing all day. “Everyone will know I’ve been working all day,” she says. Some early arrivals are opening the bottles.

5:15 p.m.: Miller and the others are paying more attention to the early results on TV, and Miller plays out a scenario where the election could be decided by Nevada. “No one wants to be the next Ohio or Florida,” he says. He jokes that he doesn’t want CNN at his front door.

THE FINAL HOUR

6:13 p.m.: Williams, watching early returns on TV, makes her own call on the election. This was going to be a watching party, she says. Now it’s going to be a celebration party.

6:50 p.m.: TV projections are putting a damper on the Republicans’ dinner at Palazzo. Del Campo is walking around, visiting friends and advising them to not look at the TV monitors.

POLLS CLOSE

7:05 p.m.: Miller makes another TV appearance and then heads over to the Rio. He’ll be joining the Democratic Party celebration later, but for now he’s in his room with his daylong entourage, staring at his laptop, watching the votes come in.

7:34 p.m.: Williams hushes the gathering crowd at her Rio party and orders the TV turned down. She sounds serious. I’m taking names, she says, of people who want to work on Obama’s reelection in 2012.

8:03 p.m.: With the networks now projecting Obama’s victory, Del Campo, sitting with his mother, looks glum. “I’m upset and angry, but we have to embrace it,” he says of the outcome. “This is what the American people want, and I can’t do anything about it.” He says he’ll pray for Barack Obama.

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