Nevada scores big gains when it comes to elections


Finally, Nevada is climbing to the top of a good list!

It turns out, elections in the Silver State are well run and getting better all the time. The latest edition of the Elections Performance Index compiled by the experts at the Pew Charitable Trusts shows Nevada rising from No. 22 in the nation in 2008 to No. 5 in 2012.

We gained in 11 of the 17 categories tracked by Pew, including big gains in reducing the number of mail, military and overseas ballots rejected by elections officials, reducing voter registration and absentee ballot problems and improving our overall voter-registration rate. (Other categories used in the analysis include how complete election data are, whether a post-election audit of information is required, voting wait time and voter turnout.)

One factor that helped Nevada’s numbers: Expanding Clark County’s online voter registration system, which started in 2010, to the entire state in 2012.

“Nevada is a real success story,” said David Becker, director of Pew’s election initiatives, praising Secretary of State Ross Miller as well as local election officials, including now-retired Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax. “The data demonstrates that they do a remarkably good job.”

Miller — who oversaw his first election in 2008 — said he was happy with the improvements documented by Pew. “This reinforces what the Nevada public has seen firsthand, which is that we run very clean, efficient elections in Nevada,” he said.

There are still improvements to be made, however. Although Miller successfully argued for bills that would have created Election Day “voting centers” where any registered voter could cast a ballot (similar to early voting) and for moving Nevada’s restrictive voter-registration deadline closer to Election Day, Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed both bills. The governor claimed Nevada’s voting laws are sufficiently liberal and that the voter-registration deadline wasn’t detrimental to Nevada’s voting process.

Since Miller is term-limited (and is now running for attorney general), it will be up to the next secretary of state to resume the fight for those worthwhile measures, and persuade Sandoval to change his mind.

According to Pew, the state also saw an increase between 2008 and 2012 of voting problems due to illness or disability, mail ballots that were sent out but not returned, and provisional ballots that were rejected. But the state exceeded the national average in all but five of the 17 categories tracked by Pew. We fell short when it came to unreturned mail ballots, problems with voter registration or absentee ballots, rejected voter registrations, voter turnout and voter registration rate.

Nationwide, only Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota outrank Nevada on the index. Bottom states were (in descending order) New York, Alabama, California, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

“Overall, states did better in 2012 than they did in 2008,” Pew said in an overview of the program. “Although voters turned out at a lower rate in 2012, fewer of those who did not vote said they were deterred from the polls by illness, disability, or problems with registration or absentee ballots.”

Both officials from the Pew Center and Miller agreed that the data about elections serve to disprove allegations that Nevada’s elections are susceptible to fraud. (For example, failed 2010 U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle has repeatedly insinuated that her loss to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came about as the result of fraud and not, say, her disastrously incompetent campaign.)

“People tend to forget how highly scrutinized these elections are, especially in a battleground state,” Miller said.

Zachary Markovits, manager of Pew’s elections initiatives who helped oversee the Elections Performance Index, agreed: “The anecdotes have driven policy in this area for far too long,” he said.

But now we have the numbers. And they show Nevada rising fast to the top of a very good list.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.