Nevada steps up voter outreach in wake of lawsuit
September 16, 2012
Nevada public assistance agencies are stepping up voter registration efforts, mailing thousands of voter registration forms to welfare and food stamp recipients, after a federal lawsuit accused the state of disenfranchising thousands of poor Nevadans.The new effort could benefit Democratic candidates on the November ballot because many in the targeted population have historically voted Democratic.New voter registration policies were detailed in memos issued by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this summer, after several civil rights groups sued Nevada for failing to meet federal and state laws that require public assistance offices to act also as voter registration centers, the Las Vegas Sun reported Friday.The suit argued that Nevada’s lax registration practices resulted in fewer Nevadans on public assistance registering to vote.According to a July 31 memo obtained by the newspaper, the Department of Health and Human Services recently began sending voter registration forms along with application forms to recipients whose public assistance benefits had to be renewed or updated. The newspaper said as many as 30,000 voter registration forms are sent each month.Additionally, public assistance offices have posted signs informing clients they can register to vote on-site. They have also trained workers to help clients register to vote and are handing out registration forms with all other public assistance documents.The efforts appear to have worked.In the past five weeks, 1,105 voter registration applications have come in from welfare agencies in Clark County, according to the Registrar of Voters. That’s almost as many as those agencies collected in the previous seven months combined, the Sun reported..Under federal law, state offices that provide government assistance, such as food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — the program commonly known as welfare — also are voter registration offices.But statistics gathered as part of the lawsuit by the National Council of La Raza and the Nevada NAACP chapters suggest Nevada’s public assistance agencies have failed in their voter registration tasks.During the 2002 election cycle, Nevada’s welfare agencies collected nearly 40,000 voter registration applications. That number fell to just 1,677 applications in the 2010 election cycle, despite Nevada’s booming population and growing public assistance rolls during the Great Recession.The lawsuit cited, in part, “Nevada’s ineffectual public assistance voter registration program” for the fact that less than half of low-income eligible voters were registered to vote. That’s compared with almost three-quarters of high-income eligible citizens who are registered to vote.Because Nevada is a key battleground state in both the presidential race and fight for control of the U.S. Senate, voter registration tallies here are watched closely.Democrats have steadily out-registered Republicans since April and now hold a nearly 56,000 registration advantage.Voter registrars do not track the party affiliation of those who register at public assistance offices.