Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
Standing at the back of a line in the Meadows Mall, Christine Whitten was philosophical about her wait to cast an early vote.
"I'm not crazy about the line," Whitten said Monday, eyeing the 30 voters in front of her, "but if it moves fast, it won't be a problem."
The average wait in line at the busiest of the county's early voting sites was only about 10 minutes during the Monday noon hour.
On Election Day, with voters facing one of the longest ballots in the state's history, the lines are likely to be considerably longer.
As a flight attendant who will be flying Nov. 5 and unable to make it to the polls, Whitten is one of those people the early voting program was designed to accommodate.
"I think it's a great idea," she said.
The Legislature passed the early voting law in 1993 to help "reconnect" citizens with the political process by making voting more convenient.
The Clark County Election Department has set up four permanent sites for early voting, which began Oct. 19 and runs through Friday. In addition, it has three "mobile teams" that have been setting up shop throughout the county.
Judging by public response, the program is working. Election Department figures show 26,540 people had cast ballots in the first 10 days of the 14-day program.
The most popular spot has been the Meadows Mall, where 7,689 people have voted, followed by the Boulevard Mall with 6,495 and the Galleria Mall in Henderson with 4,709.
The program has even drawn the attention of ABC's "Good Morning America Sunday" program.
Senior Producer Eleanor Prescott said they're looking at a story on efforts by Western states to make voting more attractive. While plans are still tentative, Prescott said there's a "high probability" that network crews will be hitting Las Vegas this week.
As a whole, Registrar of Voters Kathryn Ferguson finds the response "very encouraging," especially considering the low turnout expected nationwide.
Ferguson, who inaugurated an early voting program in San Antonio in 1992 and oversaw the limited introduction of the system in Clark County two years ago, expects early voting turnout to increase as the election nears.
When the dust settles late Friday night, Ferguson thinks the early ballot total could approach 40,000.
If her "guesstimate" holds true that just under 70 percent of registered voters will turn out, early voting would account for 12 to 14 percent of all ballots cast.
Based on the track record of Texas, which passed its early voting law in 1991, Ferguson expects the percentages to increase in future elections.
"It's something that takes time to catch on," she said. "I think you'll see more and more people vote early as they try it and see how convenient it is."
That was certainly the story for Whitten and other voters at the Meadows Mall.
Bob and Jean Peyton are two voters who will also be out town next week.
"This is excellent," said Bob, who was voting early for the first time.
He figured it took 20 minutes to wait in line and vote. "That's not bad at all."
His wife, Jean, and her guide dog, Landers, also seemed pleased.
"It was a very nice experience," Jean said.
Pushing a twin stroller, Barbara Wilson weathered the line and voted with no problem.
"They were very accommodating," said the young mother, who held 8-month-old Tyler and rocked 2-year-old Taylor in the stroller as she waited for her grandmother to finish voting.
Wilson would have made it out on Election Day if necessary, but she said early voting was "much more convenient."
"I had to bring some items back, so this worked out great."
Elsa Garcia, team leader for the Meadows Mall polling place, said public reaction has been positive all week.
"The whole time we've been here I think I've heard about one complaint," said the Election Department analyst as she helped direct voters to the 21 electronic voting machines at the site.
Voters are lined up when polls open at 10 a.m., Garcia said, and the line stays fairly constant until 5 p.m. The polls close when the mall closes at 9 p.m.
It makes for some 14-hour days for Garcia and her crew, but the voters like it.
"Everybody likes the convenience," she said. "They're coming to shop, and they can vote at the same time. I see a lot of people carrying bags into the voting booths."