Here’s a question to ask yourself: Do you believe every single eligible voter should be able to cast a ballot?
If your answer is yes, you’d probably have been in favor of Assembly Bill 440, a bill that would have extended the voter-registration deadline until the Friday before a primary or general election. (Currently, the law says the absolute drop-dead deadline to register — you have to show up in person at a clerk or registrar’s office if you wait this late — is about 21 days before Election Day.)
That means if you, like many people, don’t start paying attention to politics until every single ad on TV is attacking somebody for something, you may be out of luck when it comes to participating in the process.
Although I pay unhealthy attention to politics, I’m not one to condemn those who aren’t engaged until the very end. (I do condemn those who don’t get involved at all, but that’s another story.)
People are busy, and as much as those of us who follow politics religiously like to think it’s the center of the universe, for most people, it’s just not. Getting the kids to soccer, finding a baby sitter for the party on Saturday and meeting work deadlines occupies most people’s attention most of the time.
That’s why AB 440 — sponsored by the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee — was such a good idea. It gave people an extra window of time in which they could sign up and vote in an election. And the fact that Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the bill is especially frustrating, given Nevada’s new secure online voter registration system, which requires a valid driver’s license and Social Security number to use.
The secretary of state’s office estimated about 7,300 people signed up to vote in 2012 after the deadline to register. It’s not a huge number, but we’re told every vote counts. What we mean is every vote registered before the arbitrary deadline.
Sandoval wrote in his veto message that there are plenty of ways to register, and that the bill wasn’t necessary.
“Nevada offers more voter registration options than most states,” Sandoval wrote, citing mail registration, the DMV, local government offices, social service agencies and college campuses.
“The registration deadlines currently in place apply only to registration that occurs immediately prior to a particular election day,” Sandoval added. “There is no indication that these deadlines are detrimental to Nevada’s voting process or need to be changed. Indeed, legislative testimony indicated that out of one million eligible voters in Nevada’s last election, only 0.002 percent of those voters complained about missing the registration deadline for the election.”
And if you’re in that 0.002 percent? Well, it sucks to be you.
Although the governor didn’t mention it in his letter, there’s a heavy dose of politics involved in this issue. (The bill passed on a nearly party-line vote.) That’s because Democrats have done a much better job of registering voters in the state than Republicans, and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t continue doing so right up until the Friday before Election Day.
But politics is probably the worst reason to oppose AB440. Some conservatives who opposed the bill said in essence that people who procrastinated about the franchise should be punished for being lazy about it. But government-imposed barriers to exercising a fundamental constitutional right that don’t serve a legitimate purpose are generally opposed by the right.
Secretary of State Ross Miller said he was dismayed by Sandoval’s veto. “I just think it’s disappointing. You want to encourage as many citizens to participate as possible,” Miller said.
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@ reviewjournal.com.