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5 takeaways from Clark County’s municipal primary

Updated April 6, 2019 - 12:16 am

Young adults turned out in historic numbers during last year’s midterm election, but that flare appeared to fizzle during Clark County’s 2019 municipal primary.

Six times as many voters in their 80s cast ballots than people in their 20s. The average voter was 66 years old.

The primary saw the second-worst turnout among city races in the past 20 years. Less than 9 percent of the nearly 560,000 eligible voters cast ballots.

But who showed up to the polls? Here are five takeaways from a Las Vegas Review-Journal analysis of turnout data from mail-in ballots, early voting and Election Day.

Generational divide

The vast majority of voters were older than 50.

Baby boomers (ages 55 to 73) cast some 24,000 ballots, more than any other generation.

Second was the Silent Generation (ages 74 to 91) with more than 15,600 votes, followed by Generation X (ages 39 to 54) with close to 6,200 votes. Millenials (ages 23 to 38) cast fewer than 2,400 votes.

Members of Generation Z, who are age 22 and younger, cast about 550 votes.

The results were not surprising to Kenneth Fernandez, a political scientist at the College of Southern Nevada.

“I think there’s a lot of residents that don’t get super excited about a nonpartisan, primary municipal election in an odd year,” he said. “Young people are just not going to come out and turn out, because if they’re in tune with politics they’re going to hear news about the president, Congress, maybe a state gubernatorial race.”

Impact of cross-jurisdictional voting

In an effort to boost turnout this year, a new program allowed city residents to cast ballots at voting sites outside their home city.

About 1,800 voters took advantage of the new feature on election day and during early voting. That was less than 5 percent of all voters who visited a physical polling location.

The program was most effective in North Las Vegas, where 14 percent of voters who used a polling place cast a ballot outside the city.

The new feature came at no additional cost to the cities. County spokesman Dan Kulin said the cities owe the county about $750,000 for holding the municipal primary elections.

Abstentions may have cost Kihuen

Sexual harassment allegations beleaguered former Rep. Ruben Kihuen’s run for Las Vegas City Council. Still, the Democratic party’s former rising star was just five votes short of advancing to the June general election.

While Kihuen’s margin of defeat was razor thin, as many as 45 residents of Ward 3 who cast ballots in the municipal primary abstained from voting in the ward’s council race.

“I know having seven candidates on the ballot was probably overwhelming for some,” said Melissa Clary, a candidate who advanced to the general election. “Now that we’ve whittled it down to two, I feel there’s less information to weed through and less choices. So hopefully people can get their questions answered.”

Voting patterns in Ward 5

In Las Vegas Ward 5, less than one-fifth of early voters cast a ballot at a polling place inside their ward.

The low numbers follow concern that early voting locations inside the ward were open only three days, none of which fell on the weekend. Overall, Ward 5 voters had the lowest turnout rate in Las Vegas.

ACLU of Nevada legal director Amy Rose said the data raises important questions about voter access in the ward, which covers the Historic Westside and has the city’s largest concentration of black voters.

“There’s the question of why are people voting at vote centers outside their ward, and there’s the question of overall turnout in the ward. I think they’re different but possibly related questions,” she said. “It’s definitely worth a detailed analysis to make sure that everyone has easy access to a vote center so they can exercise their right to vote.”

Where voters are most engaged

The smallest municipality had the mightiest voter turnout. One-third of 10,430 voters cast a ballot.

“We have a very engaged citizenry, and that has always been the case,” City Clerk Lorene Krumm said. “People who run for office in this town are known by the citizens. … Our electeds are in our schools. They might own a business. They’re involved in local organizations.”

Outside of Boulder City, turnout was highest among residents of Henderson’s rapidly developing Ward 2. The area, which is home to the Inspirada master-planned community, saw about one-tenth of its registered voters cast a ballot.

The worst turnout was in Henderson Ward 3. Less than one-in-20 registered voters there participated in the election.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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