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April 19, 2019

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Same-day registration, extended deadlines: Democrats propose changes for voting eligibility

Midterm Voting At McDoniel Elementary

Steve Marcus

Poll worker Denise Tribble holds up a sticker during voting at Estes McDoniel Elementary School in Henderson Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

Almost 7,400 people Nevada registered to vote too late to participate in the 2018 midterm elections, according to Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, D-Las Vegas.

That’s a large number of prospective voters left out of the system, and it's among voting-related issues that legislators are tackling with Assembly Bill 345.

The bill is substantial — it would institute same-day voter registration, allow 17-year-olds to vote in certain primary elections and extend online voter registration deadlines.

The bill allows county and city clerks to create polling places that anyone registered to vote in their municipalities can use, rather than having to go to the polls in their district. It would also require the Department of Motor Vehicles, which currently handles automatic voter registration in Nevada, to give individuals forms that allow them to register as part of a party or opt out of the registration process altogether.

“To the extent that we can empower and enable local officials to make sure that every eligible voter is able to cast their vote, I think we should put forth efforts to do so,” said Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, one of four Democratic co-sponsors.

Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke in favor of the bill. “If I, as attorney general, could co-sponsor this bill, I would,” he said.

Under the proposed legislation, 17-year-olds, who already can preregister to vote in some cases, would be able to vote in a primary election for the next general elections that would occur after they turned 18.

Assemblywoman Selena Torres, D-Las Vegas, who is a high school teacher, said the bill would help make the process clearer for voters, including young people who are about to participate in their first election as a voter.

“I think of my high school students back home, how many of them were so confused by the election process,” she said. “In fact, they were tweeting me, of all places … they found me on Twitter (and) were tweeting me, 'How do I register to vote, is it too late?’”

Frierson touted another aspect the bill would address — 18-year-olds whose birthdays fall after the registration deadline but by Election Day would be able to vote if this bill passes.

“In every single way, an 18-year-old is considered to be an adult. They’re responsible, except for this,” he said. “And the notion that you have to wait two years to wait until you’re 20 if you happened to turn 18 just before November, two years to exercise such an important right. I think (that) goes around the spirit of democracy.”

In the case of same-day voter registration, prospective voters would have to bring proof of residence and identification to a polling place, and they must cast a provisional ballot. (A provisional ballot is one in which the voter’s eligibility must be looked into before the vote is counted.)

This led to concerns from election officials about the delay of official election results.

“This means election results and winners in close elections will not be known for up to two weeks after an election,” said Wayne Thorley, deputy secretary of state for elections. “Just for reference, in 2018, three of six statewide constitutional offices were decided by less than 6,400 votes. Had the provisional same-day registration ballot been in process, those races would not have been decided until up to 14 days until after the election.”

Concerns were raised in a Tuesday hearing before the Assembly's Legislative Operations and Elections Committee by opponents who alleged that same-day voter registration would lead to increased risks of voter fraud.

Voter fraud has emerged as a contentious issue after the 2016 election, when President Donald Trump alleged that he lost the popular vote due to voting by undocumented immigrants. There is no evidence that this is true.

The allegation that same-day voter registration leads to increased risk of voter fraud is based on the decreased amount of time voting officials would have to inspect documents.

This is not the only bill proposed this session that tackles the same issues. Senate Bill 123 would allow for same-day voter registration and AB 137 would allow for same-day voter registration and give a longer period in which voters can change their information during early voting.

The cost of instituting provisions in AB 345 isn’t inexpensive.

The secretary of state’s office estimated the bill would cost nearly $8.6 million to institute in its first year, dropping to about $4.3 million in future years.

The Department of Motor Vehicles sets its estimated cost around $338,000 in the initial year in place, increasing around $406,000 in its second year and then around $812,000 in future years.

No committee votes on any of the election-related bills have taken place.