Officials fear burden of enhanced automatic voter registration

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Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria speaking to reporters the Wednesday after Election Day 2020. (Nevada Current file photo)

Nevadans who routinely line up to testify in opposition to legislative efforts to expand access to voting were outnumbered this week by county clerks and registrars with concerns their workforces will be overwhelmed should one measure pass.

“The clerks and registrars do have concern,” Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria testified Tuesday on Assembly Bill 432.

The measure would expand the state’s automatic voter registration (AVR) system, administered by the Department of Motor Vehicles, to a variety of agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Silver State Health Exchange.  It would also allow Nevada’s Native American tribes the ability to establish their own AVRs.

Individuals who have interaction with those agencies would automatically be registered to vote, unless they choose to opt out.

Alaska, Colorado and Massachusetts are among states that have instituted similar systems.

Gloria cautioned lawmakers those programs “took many years” to implement. AB 432, sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts, has an implementation date of January 2022.

“When you increase our administrative need for resources and our staff, with redistricting coming up, we are concerned about our ability to support these new programs,” Gloria testified before the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections.

The measure would cost the Silver State Health Exchange about $4 million to build and $800,000 annually to operate.  DHHS estimates its costs at $3.1 million in the next fiscal year.

Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Mark Wlaschin echoed Gloria’s concerns, testifying of “significant reservation expressed by county clerks and registrars.”

“The AVR process was not an overnight thing,” he said, adding the 2022 deadline “doesn’t offer enough time.”

Wlaschin noted the measure calls for implementing AVR at 32 tribal locations across the state, a deadline he said “may be an obstacle too great to overcome by January.”

“I hear you,” Watts responded to the concerns from state and local officials, noting he was willing to “make some technical adjustments” to facilitate the effort. He did not say whether he’s willing to extend the bill’s effective date.

The DMV was the sole government agency to voice support for the measure, which would reduce its workload, according to officials.

Nevada voters approved automatic voter registration via the DMV in 2018, adding some 142,000 voters to the rolls. But proponents of AB 432 say many who are eligible have no contact with the DMV, including elderly and disabled citizens and those who rely on mass transit.

Watts said that compared with the DMV, agencies such as DHHS,  which processes applications and determines eligibility for Medicaid,  are “better suited” to identify eligible voters.

One in three Nevadans are now on Medicaid.

Applicants for Medicaid in the state are automatically screened for eligibility for  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which requires applicants to disclose more information than an application for a driver’s license.

“This is something the Republicans have been asking for,” Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress, noted at a press conference Wednesday. “We’ve heard all these complaints about inactive voters, people getting mail at the wrong address. This cleans up the voter rolls.”

Magnus cited other states that have already expanded AVR.

“The sky is not falling and people are getting registered to vote,” she said.

Eric Jeng, an advocate for the Asian American Pacific Islander community, said it’s a myth that undocumented people want to register to vote. He said lying on an application disqualifies an individual from applying for citizenship.

Current law includes safeguards to prevent non-citizens from accidentally signing up to vote, by filtering out those who present an immigration green card, a work permit, or drivers’ authorization card, according to Maria Nieto Arto of Mi Familia Vota, who says AB 432 would do the same.

AB 432 would target communities of voters who have been historically overlooked.

Two of five eligible Native Americans are not registered to vote in Nevada, according to Taylor Patterson of the Native Voters Alliance of Nevada.

“We need to make it possible for the governments of these tribal nations to uplift themselves,” she said.

Jeng said some 77,000 Asian Americans in Nevada are not registered to vote.

“They left their voices on the table,” he said.  “They weren’t heard.”

Dana Gentry
Senior Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, a grandson, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.