A polling place on Lakeside Drive in Reno.

A polling place on Lakeside Drive in Reno.

Photo By Dennis Myers

Expect another Nevada voting failure
Nevada is headed for another low voter turnout, if newly released figures are any indication. But a national voter turnout expert says Nevada’s turnout will probably rise in spite of the public’s indifference.

Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller reported this week that 872,632 Nevadans have registered to vote. With an estimated voter population of 1,660,000, that means only 53 percent of eligible Nevadans have registered. If that low registration rate holds through November, it virtually guarantees that less than half the state’s eligible voters will go to the polls.

In the 2000 Bush/Gore presidential election, Nevada had 1,390,000 eligible voters, 64.6 percent of them registered, and 67.8 percent of those who registered actually voted. That whittled Nevada’s turnout of eligible voters down to 43.8 percent. As a result, Nevada placed 48th in the nation in voter turnout, a rise from dead last four years earlier.

There are few hot state elections to draw people to the polls this year. None of the state executive offices such as governor and secretary of state are on the ballot, Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s GOP opponent Richard Ziser is not yet showing signs of being able to seriously contest the race, and most congressional races are fairly sedate or downright comatose.

However, a close race between George Bush and John Kerry could increase turnout, as the race between Al Gore and Bush did four years ago. In fact, the populace is so enraged that it’s likely to fuel turnout, according to Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, in Washington, D.C.

Gans says get-out-the-vote efforts have only a marginal effect on turnout. “They do a little, but not a lot. The nature of this fall’s election is likely to boost [Nevada’s] turnout and everyone’s turnout. … The country is so polarized that we are likely to see more anger-driven voting than at any time since Vietnam.”

Gans says the sharp divisions in the electorate presents a paradox for those who hope for increased voter interest—it drives people to the polls, but they go there for an essentially unhealthy reason. In addition, it’s not the kind of factor that sustains higher turnout once the resentment has passed.

“The polarization isn’t healthy, and it won’t keep turnout up, but you’re always grateful for interest,” Gans says.