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Nevada primary election turnout so far: 16 percent statewide

Updated May 27, 2020 - 10:19 pm

Nevada is on pace for strong voter turnout in its 2020 presidential primary election, according to new figures released by the Nevada secretary of state’s office.

As of Wednesday morning, 203,207 ballots have been returned. According to the most recent voter registration data, this represents about 12.5 percent of the 1,622,415 active voters in Nevada.

The turnout in Clark County as of Wednesday morning was 119,042 ballots, or about 10.5 percent of the active voter base as of the end of April.

This year marked the first time all active voters in Nevada received an absentee ballot, as elections officials switched to an all-mail primary due to concerns over COVID-19. In Clark County, ballots were also sent to several hundred thousand inactive voters.

Voters still have about two weeks to return their ballots. Any ballots postmarked by election day, June 9, will be counted up until June 16.

These figures represent the number of ballots submitted, not votes counted, as each absentee ballot must be verified.

In 2016, about 16 percent of Clark County voters participated in the primary. The statewide percentage was about 18.5.

In Nevada, the highest turnout in recent memory for a presidential primary came in 2004, when just over 29 percent of voters participated. Unlike 2020, the 2004 election also included a U.S. Senate race — an eventual landslide re-election for former Sen. Harry Reid — at the top of the ticket.

Robert Lang, a public policy professor and executive director of The Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West at UNLV, said it’s difficult to predict what could be driving turnout.

“Sometimes, it’s just a matter of convenience,” Lang said. “Sending ballots to everyone lowers the barrier of entry. You don’t have to get in your car and find a place to vote. You can just check a few boxes and stick it in the mail.”

But voters probably also have a heightened interest in politics at the moment due to the ongoing pandemic and looming recession, Lang added.

“When people think (the country) is going in the wrong direction, they turn out,” Lang said. “You would think people would want to vote when things are going well, but satisfaction lowers participation.”

Despite clear Republican opposition to all-mail elections in Nevada and beyond, Lang noted it’s also not clear whether either major party benefits from the system.

The early turnout numbers in Nevada support this. About 42 percent of the ballots submitted so far came from Democrats, with 41 percent submitted by Republicans. The statewide registration advantage for Democrats is about 6 percent.

Lang said it remains to be seen whether voters will be swayed to keep an all-mail or hybrid voting system going forward. While experts know things like long lines at polling places frustrate voters, there’s not much data yet on mostly mail or all-mail elections. Results will also be delayed by almost a week due to the new system, which voters may resent.

“The system has not been tested yet, so we’ll see,” Lang said.

Since 2000, an average of 23.74 percent of voters statewide have participated in primary elections. In Clark County, turnout averages 20.79 percent.

A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the number of ballots returned.

Contact Rory Appleton at rappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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