The election in Nevada is already half over.
More than half the state’s active registered voters have cast early or absentee ballots, according to state and county statistics. And the majority of those who voted in the state’s urban areas were Democrats.
During the two-week early voting period that ended Friday, 561,625 Nevadans went to the polls, according to the secretary of state’s office. That’s 47 percent of the state’s approximately 1.2 million active registered voters.
Adding the 46,000 absentee ballots that had been received by the Clark County Election Department through Friday, the percentage of voters statewide who have recorded their choice is above 50 percent. The state’s other 16 counties have not disclosed how many absentee ballots they have received.
By comparison, in 2004, the biggest election in state history, just 32 percent of the voters registered cast early ballots; another 8 percent of the electorate voted by mail and 37 percent on Election Day, for a total turnout statewide of 77 percent.
Matt Griffin, deputy secretary of state for elections, said the blockbuster early voting numbers mean this year’s turnout is likely to be the highest ever. All the early voting also takes some pressure off Election Day.
“It will still be busy on Tuesday, but with half the eligible voters already casting a ballot, that should cut down on the lines,” he said.
In Clark County, home to nearly 70 percent of the electorate, early and absentee votes combined totaled over 434,000, or 53 percent of voters.
Of those, 221,000, or 51 percent, were votes cast by registered Democrats, while 140,000, or 32 percent, were cast by Republicans. The rest were nonpartisans or members of minor political parties.
In Washoe County, 47 percent of the 102,000 early voters were Democrats, while 35 percent were Republicans.
Combining the two urban counties, home to 87 percent of the state’s voters, 50 percent of Clark and Washoe voters have been Democrats, 33 percent Republicans.
In those counties, 92,000 more Democrats than Republicans have voted, in a state that President Bush won four years ago by 20,000 votes.
Political party information wasn’t available from the state’s 15 rural counties, which tend to be heavily Republican but account for less than 15 percent of the electorate.
The early voting statistics only tell which party voters belong to, not who they voted for or who is winning the election. No election results will be released until after the polls close at 7 p.m. on Election Day.
But with polls generally showing 80 to 90 percent of each party’s members supporting its presidential candidate, those numbers are very good news for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s chances in Nevada, experts said.
“Early voting is a very good trend for Obama, especially if he’s gotten his new voters out,” said University of Nevada, Reno, political scientist Eric Herzik. “It’s not over for (Republican nominee John) McCain if all those regular Republican voters show up and vote on Tuesday and Obama’s voters don’t. But it’s looking like whatever the Republicans do on Election Day may be too little, too late.”
The early numbers also bode well for Democratic candidates further down the ticket, although nonpartisan voters and those who might cross party lines stand to be a bigger factor in those races.
•In the 3rd Congressional District, where Democratic state Sen. Dina Titus hopes to beat incumbent Republican Rep. Jon Porter, 251,000 votes were cast early and absentee, 47 percent by Democrats and 35 percent by Republicans.
•In the state Senate’s 5th District, where Republican incumbent Joe Heck faces Democratic challenger Shirley Breeden, 45 percent of early ballots were cast by Democrats, 37 percent by Republicans.
•In the state Senate’s 6th District, where Republican incumbent Bob Beers faces Democratic challenger Allison Copening, 46 percent of early voters were Democrats, 39 percent Republicans.
If either Beers or Heck loses, Democrats would go from the minority to the majority in the state Senate.
On the last day of early voting Friday, the line out front of a North Las Vegas Vons grocery store stretched past the Discount Cigarettes next door, and the Sally Beauty Supply next to it, and a couple more storefronts, too.
Yet voters who went through the line reported waiting no more than half an hour and said they were glad to get the task of voting out of the way. With news reports of voters in other states waiting for multiple hours, 30 minutes in a fast-moving line didn’t seem too bad.
“I waited until the last day (of early voting), but I figured it would be worse on Tuesday,” said Stan Schechter, 50, of Las Vegas.
A registered Republican, Schechter voted for McCain because he believes the Republican would enact a more responsible foreign policy.
However, Schechter said he doesn’t care for McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin.
“I think Palin was just the kiss of death,” he said. “I think Obama is going to win.”
Sandra Pena and Maria Felix, co-workers at a construction company office, wore their Halloween costumes to go to the polls on their lunch break. Pena, 39, was a “black angel” with a feathered halo, while Felix, 27 and eight months pregnant, wore a wildcat mask.
Both said they voted for Obama.
“Like he says, it’s time for a change,” Pena said. “With the economy, it’s such a scary time. Our company, we have a lot of (construction) jobs finishing up, and not a lot of new ones starting.”
Felix added, “When he speaks, he gives you this feeling, like you can trust this guy. He understands what’s really going on.”
Barb Conant, a 34-year-old single mother of three, said she went back and forth between the two candidates, but in the end she chose McCain.
“In the end, my gut instinct told me I needed to vote for him,” she said.
One thing that was never in doubt was whether she would vote.
“If I didn’t, my dad would kick my butt,” the native Las Vegan said. “He was in Vietnam. This is what he fought for.”
Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.