Nevada elects women but female voter participation lags nation, report says

three senators walk down hall
From left, Nevada state Sens. Dallas Harris, Melanie Scheible and Yvanna Cancela arrive at the Nevada Legislature on the eighth day of the 31st Special Session of the in Carson City, Nev., on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

The Nevada State Legislature may have achieved gender parity, but the state’s voter participation among women is nothing to brag about.

According to a new Institute for Women’s Policy Research ranking of women’s political participation, Nevada placed in the top third of all states. But that ranking was entirely because of its best-in-the-nation numbers of women elected officials. In the other metrics analyzed — specifically, in female voter registration and turnout — Nevada placed in the bottom handful of states.

Nevada made national headlines in 2019 for having the first female-majority state legislature in the country: 33 of its 63 legislators are women. The Assembly is composed of 23 women and 19 men. The Senate is composed of 10 women and 11 men.

When it comes to statewide elected executive offices, Nevada again fares well with three of the six positions being held by women.

Similarly, Nevada has strong female representation at the federal level. Both its U.S. senators are women — Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen. Two of the four U.S. House representatives are women — Reps. Dina Titus and Susie Lee.

When it comes to female voter registration and turnout, Nevada trends toward the bottom of the country. Nevada placed 46th in the nation when it came to the percentage of women registered to vote. Using an average from the 2016 and 2018 elections, 59.3 percent of women were registered to vote.

Nationally, 66.7 percent were.

When that average is teased out: The percentage of women in Nevada who registered to vote fell from 2016 to 2018. In 2016, 62.4 percent of women were registered. In 2018, 56.1 percent were.

Nevada similarly placed poorly when it came to the percentage of women who voted. Again using an average from 2016 and 2018, 49.1 percent of Nevada women voted; 54.4 percent did nationally.

That placed Nevada as 45th in the nation.

The women’s political participation report also considered the number of institutional resources available to women. This could include campaign training for women, state or county women’s commissions and women’s political action committees or caucuses.

In this category, Nevada was ranked last alongside nine other states.

Diversity over the years

According to a 2019 Legislative Counsel Bureau report. Nevadans first elected a woman to the State Assembly in 1918: Sadie Hurst. As for the State Senate, the first woman to serve was Frances Friedhoff, who was appointed during the 1935 session. The first woman elected was Helen Hurr in 1966.

Over time, the number of women elected into office has grown. The first general election between two women was in 1922 in Mineral County. Democrat Rita Millar defeated Republican Genevieve H. Sperling for an Assembly seat.

Only one of Nevada’s 17 counties have never been represented by a woman: Douglas County.

Today’s 52.4 percent female Nevada State Legislature also reflects more diversity than exists in many state legislatures. Of the 33 women, five are Hispanic, five are Black, one is Native American, and three are multiracial, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

According to the Legislative Counsel Bureau, the first Black female legislator elected to the Senate was Bernice Mathews in 1994, and the first Black female legislator elected to the Assembly was Dina Neal in 2010.

Assemblywomen Teresa Benitez-Thompson, Irene Bustamante Adams, Olivia Diaz and Lucy Flores were the first Hispanic female legislators elected to the State Assembly. They were all elected in 2010. State Sen. Yvanna Cancela became the first Hispanic female elected to the Senate (in 2018).

Assemblywoman Shea Backus was elected in 2019 as the first Native American legislator.

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.