Mail-in voting jumbles typical voter behaviors in Nevada

A county worker loads mail-in ballots into a scanner that records the votes at a tabulating area at the Clark County Election Department, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Las Vegas.

A county worker loads mail-in ballots into a scanner that records the votes at a tabulating area at the Clark County Election Department, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Las Vegas.

In Nevada, registered Democrats have returned almost twice as many mail-in ballots as registered Republicans, but the deficit doesn't faze state GOP Chair Michael McDonald.

"If you look at our Get Out The Vote program, it's focused 100% on getting people to the polls," he said. "As far as the Democrats, that's on them. I know in our game plan, we anticipated them working the mail ballots."

McDonald feels confident because, unlike prior elections in Nevada, Republicans lead in early in-person voting.

Nevada's decision to mail all active voters ballots ahead of the November election has defied conventional wisdom about voter preferences and raised questions for party leaders trying to get a handle on the state of the race in its final days.

State Republicans and President Donald Trump have repeatedly sown doubt about mail-in ballots and are relying on high in-person voter turnout to even the score and compete in a state that the president lost by a narrow 2.4 percentage-point margin in 2016.

Historically, Democrats have outpaced Republicans in early voting, while a higher percentage of Republican and independent voters have voted on Election Day, narrowing the gap between the two parties. With one day of early voting remaining, election officials are reporting Republicans outpacing Democrats in early voting and Democrats returning nearly twice as many mail-in ballots as Republicans. Accounting for all forms of voting, 45,000 more registered Democrats have voted than registered Republicans.

The divergent voter behaviors mirror how the two parties have approached their get-out-the-vote efforts: Democrats have hyped the new universal mail ballot law and Republicans have focused mainly on in-person voting.

Nevada Democratic Party spokeswoman Molly Forgey said Democrats' voter education efforts included all voting options — early in-person voting, Election Day voting and mail voting, which they've described in detail to account for the new law.

"We don't tell Nevadans how to vote, we just make sure they know all of their options," Forgey said.

In Nevada's rural Republican enclaves and liberal-leaning cities, the majority of voters traditionally cast ballots early at in-person voting sites. In 2016, 62% voted early and 31% voted on Election Day. But after all voters were mailed ballots, less have shown up at early voting sites — particularly Democrats.

Almost 211,000 registered Republicans had voted at early voting sites as of Thursday; more than twice as many as the 101,000 Democrats who have voted early in-person. Registered Democrats had mailed more than 249,000 ballots back as of Thursday, while registered Republicans had mailed about 130,000 back.

Republicans are also leading Democrats in same-day registration, 9,084 to 8,130.

Nevada's voter behavior patterns and high preliminary turnout match early voting data in other states, including Florida and Pennsylvania. However, party registration does not necessarily indicate candidate preferences and the two-party comparison does not account for the 228,000 voters who have cast ballots that aren't registered to either party.

Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


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