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Nevada Today

Nevada Today is a nonpartisan, independently owned and operated site dedicated to providing up-to-date news and smart analysis on the issues that impact Nevada's communities and businesses.

2020 ElectionNews and information

Early Voting Update: The End Is Near

Watching the early voting numbers this year has often felt like riding a roller coaster. But as more and more numbers come in, a very familiar pattern re-emerges.

Tune out the melodrama, and pay attention to the actual numbers. They’re telling us something very important.

Never mind the daily swings. Zoom out and assess the big picture. 
(Editor’s Note: I updated this section at 4:30 PM to add in new early voting data.)
Donald Trump, COVID-19, early voting
Photo by Andrew Davey

While the day-to-day fluctuations seem monumentally huge at times, it’s important to zoom out and notice the larger picture of early voting so far in Nevada. Democrats vaulted to a 76,000+ vote turnout lead in Clark County this morning thanks to their overwhelming vote-by-mail (VBM) lead canceling out Republican strength in in-person turnout, and the Secretary of State’s office’s afternoon update showed that lead expand further to just over 81,000. Meanwhile up north, even with Republicans doing as well as they are in in-person turnout, Democrats hold a larger early voting lead in Washoe County than they did when early voting concluded in 2016, and when early voting concluded in 2018.

According to the Secretary of State’s office and the most recent updates from Clark and Washoe Counties, Nevada Democrats have a turnout lead just north of 44,000 votes statewide. As expected, Republicans added to their rural leads and chipped away some more at Democrats’ Washoe lead in today’s update, but Democrats’ statewide lead held steady thanks to Democrats’ continually growing turnout lead in Clark. Percentage wise Democrats’ statewide turnout lead ticks a little below 2016, but remains quite a bit above 2018.

Since last week, Republicans have narrowed Democrats’ statewide turnout lead outright and closed the gap percentage wise in Clark County. So is this definitive proof that most of the polls and forecasts are wrong? No. Please stay with me below, as I explain why.

Today, we’re playing with a new set of numbers. This time, we’re looking at real-life turnout across the state.
Douglas County, Lake Tahoe
Photo by Andrew Davey

While we’ve been expecting a more Republican-friendly electorate next Tuesday, keep in mind that 1,021,253 ballots have already been cast as of this afternoon. If our turnout model of 1.22 million is anything close to correct, then over 83% of the vote is already in. If we end up with even higher total turnout of 1.45 million (or 80% of registered voters), then just over 70% of the vote is already in.

Here’s another interesting facet on our turnout so far: While Democrats are now performing slightly below their voter registration advantage in Clark County and better than their slight registration deficit in Washoe County, Republicans are performing slightly below their voter registration advantage in Douglas and White Pine Counties, Republicans are right around their registration edge in Churchill County, and Republicans are performing slightly above their registration edge in Elko, Humboldt, Lyon, and Nye Counties. In contrast to the eye-popping discrepancies we noticed during the earliest days of early voting, overall turnout is increasingly resembling voter registration.

So what does all of this mean? Look at overall turnout so far: The rural counties have mostly turned out slightly higher shares of their registered voters than Clark, and Washoe currently leads the state in turnout (in proportion to registered voters). As different as this election feels, we have seen this pattern before. While the rural counties certainly have more voters to turn out, Clark County has even more, both proportionally and in pure raw numbers. Now that early voting is almost over, I feel more confident in saying (just as I did two years ago!) that we’re not seeing evidence of a huge tsunami of rural Republican votes building to wipe out urban Democrats’ lead next Tuesday. 

Please say it with me again: Washoe, Washoe, Washoe!
(Editor’s Note: I updated this section at 6:27 PM with a brand new breakdown of Washoe County early voting turnout.)
Reno, early voting
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last weekend, a very trustworthy source presented me with a thorough breakdown of early voting in Washoe County during Week 1, followed by an updated breakdown on Wednesday and another update today. From what I could tell, it looked eerily familiar because it closely followed the pattern we noticed in Washoe in 2018… Other than Democrats performed even better during the first week of early voting this year, and Democrats so far are performing better this year than they did in 2016.

During the first week of early voting this year, Democrats took a 10% turnout lead in the SD 15 seat where Democrats hope Wendy Jauregui-Jackins (D) can defeat incumbent State Senator Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno). As of today Democrats’ turnout lead narrowed to 3.4%, but that’s still better than where they were at this point in 2016 and 2018. Republicans finally pulled ahead and now have a 3.7% lead in the historically Republican AD 25 where Assembly Member Jill Tolles (R-Reno) is running unopposed. Like SD 15 overall, Democrats appear to be running right around where they were in 2018.

Meanwhile in AD 31, a Republican-trending swing seat that Assembly Member Skip Daly (D-Sparks) won back in 2016 and narrowly held onto in 2018, Republicans leapt to a 3.4% turnout lead with today’s update after remaining behind up until this past Wednesday, but in 2018 Republicans had already pulled ahead in AD 31 in the first week of early voting. And in the traditional Democratic strongholds that we find in AD’s 24 (Downtown Reno and the University of Nevada), 27 (parts of Northwest Reno), and 30 (east end of Reno and Downtown Sparks), Democrats have again built robust turnout leads that can only help Joe Biden carry Washoe County and Nevada overall.

Yep, I still see blue people.
Joe Biden
Photo by Andrew Davey

Normally I’d do one more early voting update tomorrow, but this time I’ll probably wait until Monday since we have much more VBM action this year. Unless we see a sudden flood of Republicans returning their VBM ballots, my guess is that this will be Democrats’ last chance to pad their Clark turnout lead and hang onto their Washoe lead before we see a more GOP-friendly pool of voters show up on Tuesday. 

But as we discussed above, it’s looking less likely that the November 3 voters will be historically, massively, disproportionately Republican, as Republicans have been frontloading more of their voters during in-person early voting in both the rural counties and the two urban centers, and this largely offsets Democrats’ frontloading more of their voters through VBM. Unless we see a huge wave of same-day registrations pop up on Tuesday, it’s increasingly looking like the vast majority of votes will be in by Monday. While some down-ballot races may be shaking up a little, it’s increasingly looking like FiveThirtyEight and The Economist are making the right calls on Nevada.

For more information on how to vote this year, check out the Nevada Secretary of State’s comprehensive site explaining our various options. If you’re already registered to vote at your current address and you voted in 2018, you were probably mailed a ballot thanks to AB 4 becoming state law in August. You still have time to either turn in your ballot at a secure drop-off site or vote in person. If you still need to register for the first time or update your registration, you can register at a local voting site today or next Tuesday. And for more information on how to vote this fall, NBC News and The Washington Post have great resource guides to keep on deck.

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