“I don't mind at all”: Nevada man offers garage as polling place

Dan Mika, Special to the Journal
Nevada resident Ray Lounsberry stands in his garage. For the past fifteen years, Lounsberry has allowed the Story County Auditor's office to use his garage as a polling place in Nevada township.

Ray Lounsberry won’t have to wait in long lines or travel very far to vote in his 19th presidential election this Tuesday. That’s because his polling place is literally in his backyard.

Lounsberry, 93, has opened up his cavernous agricultural garage to Nevada voters as a polling place for 15 years. Each election, Lounsberry wakes up before 6 a.m. to heat up his garage before the poll workers arrive to set up voting machines. He brings them coffee and cookies and makes space in the garage’s refrigerator for poll workers to keep their lunches as they prepare for the 300 or so voters assigned to the precinct. He also sets up chairs, including an old wooden church pew for voters to rest on as they wait for their turn at the ballot machine.

Lounsberry spends most of Election Day in his own home a few yards from the shed, occasionally checking on the worker’s supply of caffeine and sweets.

“I don’t hang around much,” he said.

The idea to offer his garage as a polling place came to Lounsberry as he and others in the Nevada area voted at a shed at Hickory Grove Lake years ago. A former county auditor asked Lounsberry for use of his garage after he noticed residents didn’t want to stay outside in the cold of November to cast their ballot.

“Very little heat, and people wouldn’t go vote,” he said. “It was a terrible place to vote.”

Lounsberry’s shed is an ideal place to host a polling site because it’s relatively centered in his precinct and is wheelchair-accessible, he said.

Story County auditor Lucy Martin said election boards favor placing polls in public buildings like schools or libraries, but if there aren’t enough public buildings in an area, the office will designate churches or private clubs.

“We don’t have enough public buildings spread out in the county,” she said.

But Lounsberry said he doesn’t mind having people waiting in his garage to vote.

“I’ve lived here since 1947 and this shed makes a nice place for them,” he said. “Some of them like to mill around and look at tractors and see a lot of their neighbors.”

Lounsberry doesn’t farm the acreage around his home anymore due to his age. When he passes away, he said the tenant that raises corn and soybeans on his land will continue to give the county a place to poll residents in Nevada.

But until then, Lounsberry will set his alarm clock early Tuesday morning so he can heat up the garage for the poll workers.

“I feel like I’m doing a service to the county by letting them use this,” he said. “I don’t mind at all.”