Statewide early voting numbers up

As Election Day dawns today, nearly one-third of Nevada's active voters already have cast their ballots.

According to election officials in Nevada's 17 counties, about 32 percent of the state's active voters - 280,640 people - cast ballots early or by mail in this year's election, a record since early voting began in 1994.

Secretary of State Dean Heller called the early turnout "phenomenal."

"In Texas, 50 to 60 percent of the voters vote early," Heller said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see that many voting early in Nevada in the future.

"The number is only going to grow as people come to understand its convenience. Some think of voting on election day as a social event. But for those who are busy and have other things to do, that is the redeeming value of early voting."

Heller said he is expecting between 60 and 65 percent total voter turnout in today's general election of leaders in federal, state and local offices, compared with 49 percent in 1998. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The number of early voters was up in each of Nevada's 17 counties except Eureka County, which does not have early voting.

Nearly 40 percent of Carson City's active voters have voted, the second-highest percentage in Nevada. Only Lander County, which already has ballots from 46 percent of its 2,856 active voters, was higher.

Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover said he expects about 80 percent of Carson's registered voters, between 16,000 and 18,000 people, to vote in the general election.

In Ely, White Pine County Clerk Donna Bath said her three-person office had 91 voters Friday. Nearly one-quarter of the county's active registered voters have already voted, she said.

"We've got some tired clerks, I'll tell you," Bath said.

In Clark County 167,522 people voted early, nearly doubling the number of 1998 early voters.

When the state first allowed early voting in 1994, the goal was to make voting more convenient and to get a higher voter turnout.

Voting is up in the state, Heller said, partially because it is a presidential election year.

"There are three races that people are intensely interested in: president, governor and mayor," Heller said. "A general election always has a high turnout in a presidential election year.

"There's also an interesting dynamic with the ballot questions. In my opinion, those are drawing out voters, too. Voters feel like they have the opportunity to make policy issues that are important to Nevadans."

The statewide ballot questions include attempts to ban same-sex marriages and to allow medical marijuana.

And despite its meager four electoral votes, Nevada remained a key toss-up state in the presidential race.

Recent polls showed Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush with a slight lead over Democratic Vice President Al Gore, but the advantage remained within the survey's margin of error.

''Nevada is a swing state. It is very close,'' said Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., who is retiring at the end of this year. ''It is too close to call.''

Bryan made last-minute campaign appearances Monday on behalf of Democrat Ed Bernstein, who is waging an uphill battle to replace him in the Senate.

A newspaper poll last week showed former Rep. John Ensign favored to win that race and become the first Republican to represent Nevada in the Senate since Sen. Chic Hecht was defeated by the former Gov. Bryan in 1988.

Ensign, who served two terms in the House, came within 428 votes of upsetting Democratic Sen. Harry Reid in a 1998 recount that stretched into December.

Nevada historically backs Republicans for president and voted for Bush's father in 1988. But President Clinton carried the state the past two elections, partly because Ross Perot drew votes away from the GOP.

Green Party candidate Ralph Nader threatened to cause some similar damage to Gore this time around.

Voter registration numbers are nearly even among the two major parties in Nevada - 400,986 Democrats and 396,425 Republicans.

There are 138,707 nonpartisans, and 18,671 Independent Americans, 5,529 Libertarians, 1,351 Greens, 745 Natural Law and 810 Reform Party members. The remaining 1,983 registered voters in Nevada are listed by the secretary of state's office as ''other.''

First-term Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley was bidding to win re-election to Congress against Republican state Sen. Jon Porter in the 1st District representing most of Las Vegas.

In the 2nd District, which covers the rest of Nevada, Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons was heavily favored to win re-election in a race against Democrat Tierney Cahill, a largely unfunded 6th-grade teacher who started the campaign as a class project.

State legislative races took on special importance because reapportionment is planned in 2001. The parties with the majority in each house have more say in carving up districts to their liking and positioning themselves for elections in the next 10 years.

- Associated Press reporter Scott Sonner contributed to this story.


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