CARSON CITY – On largely a party-line vote, legislators agreed Thursday to allow Secretary of State Ross Miller to spend $800,000 for a voter registration effort.
Two of the nine Republicans and all 12 Democrats on the Interim Finance Committee backed the plan, which Democrat Miller said was prompted in part by a lawsuit from the NAACP, La Raza and other groups against his office, which oversees voting in Nevada.
That lawsuit charges that the Department of Health and Human Services, which handles welfare and Medicaid programs, no longer is giving most of its clients voter registration forms.
Miller also complained about the “abysmal” 18.87 percent turnout in the primary election and mentioned that 600,000 to 700,000 Nevadans have not registered.
Funds for the voter registration effort, which will be run by an advertising firm, come from federal grants.
Some Republicans questioned whether the voter drive was necessary. They said that political parties themselves are registering voters and that the funds should be used to buy or maintain voting machines.
None of them mentioned the obvious: that studies by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found 95 percent of blacks and 66 percent of Hispanics voted for Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, and a voter registration drive might lead to more voting by minorities in November, with Obama on the ballot again.
Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, suggested that Miller give money to the political parties for their registration drives. And state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, said a citizen registrar told an unregistered man that he would register him if he voted Democrat but not if he voted Republican. Another Republican said it is up to citizens to register on their own, rather than being coaxed through voter registration drives.
“I was taught at a young age that it was my civic responsibility and duty to vote,” Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, said.
Most Democrats remained silent during Thursday’s discussion. But Assemblywoman Theresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, said the anecdote by Cegavske was a good reason why a nonpartisan effort to register voters should be conducted.
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, added there has been 95 percent drop in registrations through the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency runs state welfare, food stamps and Medicaid programs.
Miller said the federal Help America Vote Act funds cannot be used for “partisan objectives” so he cannot give them to political parties. The secretary of state has received $23 million in these funds, which mainly are used for buying electronic voting machines.
Miller estimated he will need $1 million a year for the next few years to maintain the current machines but will need $18 million to replace aging machines across the state .
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.