Nevada is now beginning to close voter registration for this year’s election. The standard deadline came and went Tuesday, and the in-person office and online deadlines hit next week (Tuesday for the former, Thursday for the latter). As we await the final flurry of registrations, I feel the need to ask: Why is any of this necessary?
Funny enough, there’s an initiative on our ballot that changes the way we register to vote. Here’s how our voting system will change if Nevadans vote for Question 5.
How low do we go: The ugly truth about Nevada elections (and how few of us decide them)
Currently, Nevada ranks 38th out of 50 states plus Washington, D.C., in turnout of eligible voters. In 2016, 57.4% of Nevada’s eligible voters participated in the presidential election. While our turnout is in the same neighborhood as next-door neighbors California (58.2%) and Arizona (56.1%), we’re below the national average of 60.1%, and well below fellow western states Colorado (71.9%), Oregon (68.0%), and Washington (65.7%).
So what do those states have that we don’t? For starters, all three states now have universal vote-by-mail (VBM, or as Nevada officials still call them, absentee ballots). In addition Colorado and Washington allow for same-day registration, along with D.C. and 16 other states. Another key difference is that Oregon had automatic voter registration in place by the 2016 election, and that Washington, Colorado, D.C., and six other states have automatic voter registration (AVR) fully in place this year (as six others will have it in place by 2020).
What’s automatic voter registration, and how does it work?
Simply put, AVR is exactly what it sounds like. In an AVR state, any eligible voter who applies for a driver’s license or state-issued ID card is also registered to vote. Election officials check to make sure that person truly is eligible to vote. And if that person checks out, one is then given the option to opt out if one chooses not to register to vote.
As long as that person has the legal right to vote and decides not to opt out of registration, then one is entered into the voter roll. And like that, no one has to worry about non-existent threats of “fraud”, registration forms being trashed or altered against one’s will, being chased down a grocery store parking lot by a campaign worker, and/or whether one ever receives that postcard from the county election department two weeks after filling out a registration form with that weird person who had all those flashy buttons on his t-shirt.
(For anyone who did fill out a registration form I presented to you however many years ago, I promise it was turned in on time!)
So what will Question 5 do here (if it passes)?
In 2016, voting rights activists collected enough signatures to submit their AVR initiative petition (IP 1) to the Nevada Legislature. The Legislature passed IP 1 in 2017, only for Governor Brian Sandoval (R) to veto it, thereby sending Question 5 to Nevada voters to render their final decision on AVR.
If voters reject Question 5, the system remains as it is, where Nevadans eligible to vote must opt into registration by completing a form on paper or online. If voters approve Question 5, the state may incur about $5 million in one-time implementation costs, but otherwise state and county officials have already begun setting up the infrastructure that can be used for the new AVR system. Going forward, anyone who goes to the DMV to get a new license or update one’s address will also have one’s voter registration automatically updated (again, so long as one does not opt out of registration), which means voters will no longer have to worry about filling another registration form to update one’s information.
Ironically enough, voters who turn out this year will decide how we register to vote in the future. If you’re currently registered to vote or plan to do so before next Thursday, this is what you get to decide with Question 5.