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July 27, 2016

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Governor’s vetoes about politics, not better voting

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recent veto of two bills meant to help Nevadans vote shows he is more interested in party politics than improving the voting experience in the Silver State. Each election, voters must navigate bureaucratic obstacles and registration deadlines well before Election Day. The legislation, Assembly Bills 440 and 441, would have removed some of these roadblocks and helped Nevadans by expanding voting options. Apparently, Sandoval did not recognize the need for these reforms and halted any progress the Legislature tried to make.

AB440 would have moved the registration deadline closer to Election Day, when more voters are likely to be paying attention and aware of what issues and candidates are on the ballot. Moving the registration deadline closer to Election Day gives people time to register or update their address at a time when they are most interested in the election. The bill would still have given election officials enough time to prepare for upcoming elections. With the governor’s veto, voters will still have to mail in a registration or register online nearly a month before Election Day, or register in person at the registrar’s office three weeks before Election Day.

This bill would have offered Nevadans two weeks when they would be able to register and cast their ballot at the same time. Evidence has shown that allowing people to register and vote on the same day helps turnout in the 10 states and the District of Columbia, where it is used. In those states, turnout was approximately 8 percentage points higher than states without that option in the 2012 general election.

Sandoval listed the many ways Nevadans are able to register to vote and used that as part of his explanation not to extend the deadline. And he is right — there are many options, but that does not mean there should not be more. Options such as those vetoed by Sandoval would have helped the 7,000 people who attempted to register to vote but missed the deadline in November 2012. Such options may also have helped raise Nevada’s voter turnout above the national average.

Also vetoed by Sandoval were the nonprecinct-based vote centers provided for in AB441. The bill would have allowed a voter to cast a ballot on Election Day at a vote center rather than his or her assigned polling place. This bill would have offered a new level of flexibility by taking advantage of new technology and expanding a system that is already in place. The early voting centers have proved to be very popular with nearly 620,000 Nevadans voting early for the 2012 general election. Nearly twice as many ballots were cast early, not including mail-in absentee voters, than there were cast on Election Day. Unfortunately, Sandoval viewed expanding the already tested, established and popular system as unnecessary. In fact, offering this option would likely have reduced the number of provisional ballots used in Nevada and increased the number of ballots that were able to be counted on Election Day.

The Legislature recognized that when it comes to promoting our most cherished freedom — voting — we should strive to encourage all Nevadans to participate. The governor seems to be satisfied with the status quo.

Ben Hovland is senior counsel of the Fair Elections Legal Network, an advocacy group in Washington.

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