Meet the first Latina to lead the Clark County Election Department

Photograph by Emilia Pablo

By Emilia Pablo

August 24, 2023

Lorena Portillo was born in Las Vegas, but circumstances in her life led her to live temporarily in Mexico. She was just starting 10th grade when she moved, and that new beginning was in Michoacan, where her belated mother was from.

Portillo—whose father is from Durango, Mexico—recalls how challenging it was to learn Spanish and having to take extra courses to try to catch-up with native speakers.

In an exclusive interview with The Nevadan/El Nevadense, Portillo expressed with passion the strong work ethic her parents instilled in her at a very young age.

Life brought Portillo back to the United States though; to the place she calls home: Las Vegas. Her work ethic came with her. She immediately went back to school, enrolling at the local community college.

Portillo also needed a part-time job to make ends meet, so she sought an opportunity to work at the Clark County Election Department in 1998. That part-time job soon became a pillar in her life.

“When I got here, I was continuing my education. I had just married. My son was just two years old. He grew up with the Department; my other son was born in the Department,” she said figuratively, reminiscing with joy. “This job is all my kids know; this is what they have seen mommy work on throughout their lives. Son mis cheerleaders. They are my cheerleaders.”

Portillo fell in love with her first election process. While working, she went on to earn her bachelor of science in business administration from the University of Phoenix and 25 years later, life would provide a big surprise for her: She is now the first Latina in Nevada’s history to lead the Clark County Election Department, a key position in one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

“When I arrived here in 1998, there were 484,794 registered voters; today we have over 1.3 million active voters in Clark County,” Portillo shared.

Her eyes brightened when she talked about her work and preparing for three upcoming elections.

The Presidential Preference Primary (PPP) will take place on Tuesday, February 6, 2024 when Silver State voters choose who they want to be their party’s nominees for president—unless of course, someone is running unopposed.

Currently, there are more than a dozen Republicans running to be the party’s nominee, while two Democrats are mounting long-shot bids to unseat President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee.

The primary elections for state and local offices will then take place on June 11, 2024 and the general elections will be held on November 5, 2024.

As part of her preparations, Portillo has been given the green light to conduct hiring. She will be offering community members an opportunity to work in the Election Department, just as someone previously opened that same door for her. At the moment, she oversees about 40 full-time employees and over 3,000 part-time workers.

Ahead of next year’s elections, she is also rebranding her department under the new slogan “Be 2024 Ready.”

“We know that the population in Clark County will continue to grow. We have sophisticated software and sophisticated processes that will help everyone feel comfortable and confident when they register to vote and when they go out to vote,” Portillo said.

Voter registrations, absentee ballots, and the department’s website are available in three languages: English, Spanish and Tagalog.

The diversity of language accommodations reflects the diversity of Clark County and Nevada as a whole. Roughly 21% of eligible voters in Nevada are Latino, according to the Pew Research Center.

In the middle of beautiful yellow sunflower portraits and sunflowers in vases in Portillo’s office, we ended our conversation.

“One works so hard to achieve each goal in life. For me, each election is the most important job,” Portillo said with a smile on her face.

  • Emilia Pablo

    Emilia Pablo Bazan is The Nevadan, El Nevadense Political Correspondent. She is an alumna from U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism with over 10 years of experience working in the television news industry. She's also a former speechwriter and press officer for the Obama administration and an Emmy award recipient.

CATEGORIES: ELECTION | POLITICS

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