Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2018

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Tight Nevada elections drive record voter registrations

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John Locher / AP

In this May 31, 2016 file photo, a sign with an Elvis impersonator reminds people to vote at an early primary election polling site in Las Vegas. Tight races for governor and U.S. Senate have pushed a record number of people to register to vote in Nevada, and any stragglers have a little more than one week to sign up in time to participate in the 2018 midterms. Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, marks the last day people can register to vote by mail, though potential voters can still sign up in person through Oct. 16 and online through Oct. 18.

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 | 6:30 p.m.

Tight races for governor and U.S. Senate have pushed a record number of people to register to vote in Nevada, and any stragglers have a little more than one week to sign up in time to participate in the 2018 midterms.

Tuesday marks the last day people can register to vote by mail, though potential voters can still sign up in person through Oct. 16 and online through Oct. 18.

Democrats see backlash to President Donald Trump fueling voter interest in this year's elections.

But Republicans who want to defend their majorities in Congress see the left's opposition to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh energizing their base — leaving both parties to expect higher-then-usual attention in this year's midterms.

Close races at the top of the ticket in Nevada include U.S. Senate, where Republican incumbent Dean Heller is fending off Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen, and the open governor's race between Republican Adam Laxalt and Democrat Steve Sisolak.

Those too-close-to-predict races, along with the state's growing population and a surge of voter registration efforts led Nevada to hit a new state record for active registered voters, with 1,518,038 on file at the start of October.

Republicans, who started an aggressive on-the-ground voter outreach campaign in Nevada last year, started this year registering more voters each month than Democrats.

But Democrats turned things around in April, when they kicked their operation into high gear and began outpacing the GOP.

Nevada has been swinging more elections toward Democrats in recent years, but Democrats' share of the electorate is smaller than it was two years ago. In that same time, the percentage of voters who identify as Republican has dropped slightly and the share of nonpartisan voters has grown.

Democrats make up 38 percent of Nevada voters, Republicans represent 34 percent and nonpartisan voters are 22 percent.

Beyond party outreach efforts, outside groups have been hitting the streets to register voters in Nevada this year.

Among them is NextGen Nevada, an arm of the liberal youth voter registration organization founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer.

The organization said Tuesday it has registered 10,810 Nevada voters this year, with a presence at 10 college and university campuses around Nevada, and has worked with gun control organizations after the Parkland, Florida school shooting to register high school students.

Tyson Megown, NextGen Nevada's youth director, said most of the voters the group registered have not aligned themselves with a political party. He said that may be because young people are registering for the first time and not yet ready to commit to a political party and its platform, or they may feel like the traditional parties have not delivered results.

Megown said that with Nevada's close elections, young people who've become more politically active are "absolutely going to be a tipping point" this November.