Nevadans spar over same-day voter registration

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Joe Gloria, Clark County Registrar of Voters, testifying from Las Vegas via video link during a legislative hearing Wednesday .

Proposed legislation to allow voters to register on Election Day received mixed reactions during its first hearing Wednesday.

Supporters of Senate Bill 123 hope implementing the system will prevent voter disenfranchisement and help more people access the ballot box, while opponents fear the estimated fiscal costs as well as a rise of undocumented immigrants voting.

State Sen. James Ohrenschall, who presented the bill during the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections, assured the legislation was just a way to remove barriers people face when voting. “The top five states with high voter turnout have same-day voter registration,” he said.

In addition to allowing people to register on the same day of the election, the bill would extend the time period for early voting from the Friday before the election to Sunday. Municipalities, which hold off-year elections, would have the discretion on whether they would want to expand the early voting period.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed variations of same-day voter registration. Both the NCSL and groups like the Brennan Center for Justice say that states that have implemented same day registration have up to 7 percent higher turnout than states that don’t have the practice, and turnout doesn’t advantage a specific party.

Ohrenschall added in 2018, nearly 11,000 voter registration applications were received in Nevada after the registration deadline, meaning those people did not get a chance to cast a ballot in the general election.

Election officials from counties across Nevada worried about the logistics and costs of implementing the reforms — though none were outright opposed.

Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria said under the current electronic database there would be no way to verify if the person registering on Election Day has registered or voted at another location.

Wayne Thorley, the Deputy Secretary of State for Elections, said Nevada would have to change its registration process.

Known as the “bottom-up” system, Nevada counties currently submit voter files to the state, which then checks records to make sure there aren’t duplicated registrations and that those listed meet eligibility requirements. A new “top-down” system would mean the state collects and stores all voter registration information from jurisdictions — 38 states use this method.

The change is estimated to cost between $3 million and $6 million with $1.6 million in maintenance costs annually. 

Additionally, Gloria added the county would have to add at least three more poll workers at each location along with supporting bilingual workers and Internet Technology staff, which would add 500 additional workers.

One recommendation that could undercut some of the cost, supported by multiple municipalities, would use provisional ballots for same day registration. The move would require changes to Nevada law so provisional ballots would include state and local races rather than just federal candidates.

If a person registered on Election Day, the vote would be set aside and counted after the registration is verified, a method used by eight states that have same day registration.

While provisional ballots would help address some of the issues brought up by county election officials, it would present its own issues. For one, it would be mean close races would take longer to call.

Election officials also argued it would be unrealistic to implement the process by the 2020 election.

Gloria also worried that an expanded early voting period would put counties in a time crunch since they use the weekend to get polls ready for the election.

Groups supporting the legislation, including Make the Road Nevada, ACLU of Nevada, the League of Women Voters, and Battle Born Progress said same-day registration and extending early voting would expand voting rights.

Laura Martin, the executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said “everyone who is eligible to vote in an election should be able to, regardless of any arbitrary deadlines.”

She added that in 2018, more than half of all voters cast their ballot early. “Voting early is more convenient and accessible, particularly for people who have to balance work, school, and or families, and it also decreases wait times on Election Day,” she said.

Opponents argued that California would “bus people in to vote” and that the legislation was a ploy to get undocumented immigrants — or as one man put it, “illegal roaches” — to vote. “The word illegals have not been used and that’s what I’m most worried about,” one woman said during testimony.

The Nevada Republican Party, in sync with other Republican groups across the country, oppose efforts to expand opportunities to vote. “Same-day voter registration encourages voter fraud in elections, and at the very least allows uninformed voters to cast votes regarding candidates and issues that affect us all,” Jim DeGraffenreid, the group’s vice chair, said in a statement. “For these reasons, the Nevada Republican Party Platform opposes same-day voter registration.”

In addition to the costs and the fear of fraud, DeGraffenreid worried that same day registration wouldn’t leave enough time to verify felons aren’t voting.

Republicans, including and especially Donald Trump, frequently allege voter fraud is perpetrated by undocumented immigrants.

Numerous studies have found the phenomenon is “nearly nonexistent” and specific instances of alleged fraud typically relate to unintentional mistakes by voters or election officials.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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