State GOP says no to same-day signups for caucuses

The Nevada Republican Party is standing firm on not allowing same-day voter registration for the presidential caucuses, GOP leaders said as they prepared for a meeting today to decide the caucus date.

The GOP Central Committee had been planning to discuss same-day registration at its Las Vegas meeting, but the topic was removed from the agenda. Party leaders said they had determined that same-day registration could cause too many problems. Also, tea party groups and other GOP factions had objected.

“Some people thought there could be some mischief,” said Bob List, former Nevada governor and a GOP national committeeman. “Some of it is a perception problem. But we reached a consensus to not have on-site, immediate registration the same day as the caucus.”

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said Friday he is disappointed. He believes same-day registration could have immediately increased Republican registration by tens of thousands in one day. And that would boost his chances of defeating U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., in their Senate race.

“The purpose of the caucus was to strengthen the party,” Heller said in an interview, noting Democrats registered 30,000 people in one day in 2008.

Now, Democrats have about a 60,000 registered voter advantage over Republicans statewide. The GOP presidential nominee could get a lift in challenging President Barack Obama’s re-election in Nevada if Republicans use the caucus to register more party members.

Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian and other GOP leaders had hoped to register Republicans at caucus sites to generate excitement and new voters for the 2012 election. That is what Democrats did in 2008, adding 100,000 Democrats to the rolls by election day and helping Obama win Nevada and the White House.

But many Republicans, who as a party have long opposed same-day registration for state-run elections, were worried about ineligible voters participating in the party-run caucuses or Democrats infiltrating the meetings to pick a GOP presidential preference.

Tarkanian, after hearing those concerns, submitted caucus rules to the Republican National Committee earlier this fall without same-day registration. At the time, she also agreed to debate the question at today’s meeting and said that Nevada could submit revised rules if Republicans voted in favor of same-day registration.

Ahead of the weekend meeting, however, List said GOP leaders had determined there wasn’t enough support for the idea. So the central committee decided to scrap the public debate.

List said the GOP will conduct a vigorous party registration drive instead leading up to the caucus, which could increase participation.

Orrin Johnson, a GOP activist from Washoe County, said he was disappointed the state party won’t allow same-day registration. He had been scheduled to present arguments in its favor today.

“I think the concerns about voter fraud are not legitimate,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is this will eliminate our ability to register a whole bunch of Republicans.”

Jeri Taylor-Swade, the conservative Republican who led the drive against same-day registration, said she was pleased GOP leaders listened to the concerns of the rank and file.

“It could have set a precedent for elections if we accept same-day registration,” she said. “And the second thing is, this could have caused a massive opportunity for fraud and chaos.”

At the meeting, the GOP Central Committee, about 200 members, will vote on whether to move the Nevada caucus to Feb. 4. It’s set for Jan. 14, but the RNC has asked the state to change the date to accommodate New Hampshire’s desire to have the first-in-the-nation primary on Jan. 10. The Granite State wants at least a week’s space between state contests.

Nevada officials are leaning toward Feb. 4 instead of picking another January date that might conflict with other early states.

The Iowa caucuses are set for Jan. 3 and the South Carolina primary for Jan. 21. Florida scheduled its primary for Jan. 31, a move that started the early voting calendar scramble.

Tarkanian and other state party leaders will be running for re-election. Several Republicans unhappy with the recent drama over same-day registration and the shifting caucus date are prepared to challenge her. But she was endorsed Friday by Heller and Gov. Brian Sandoval and has the backing of most other GOP leaders. She is expected to win a full term.

Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter@lmyerslvrj.

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