The Good and Bad of Nevada Voter Registration

Kevin Dietrich

Election days typically occur once or twice a year (counting primaries), but the work preparing voter rolls is a year-round process.

This is especially true in Nevada, with its dynamic population that has people moving into, out of and within the state at a high rate.

What that means is election officials have to work hard to keep voting rolls – the list of people entitled to vote in upcoming elections – clean and up to date.

In the past half decade Nevada has introduced a number of changes to the way it handles elections, including universal mail-in balloting and same-day voter registration, which have made it more difficult to keep voter rolls current.

The changes, along with claims of widespread voter fraud following the 2020 election, have caused many to view balloting in the state with suspicion.

Election distrust can damage a community’s civic health, as Nevada Policy wrote recently in a paper on election integrity, titled Efficient, Timely and Reliable: A Framework for Election Law in Nevada.

“It can harm turnout, as voters refrain from participating after being told outcomes are somehow rigged and their votes won’t count,” wrote Walter Olson, author of Efficient, Timely and Reliable. “It encourages polarization, needless litigation and even talk of violence.”

One of the best ways a state, county or smaller municipality can build trust with residents is by ensuring voter rolls are up to date. But to comprehend the good and bad in how Nevada compiles its rolls, one has to understand recent changes.

Among the first major reforms legislators enacted was adoption of same-day registration in 2019. Previously, voter registration in the Silver State closed on the third Tuesday before an election. Today, an unregistered voter can show up, register and cast a provisional ballot on voting day.

Concerns with same-day registration include individuals registering and voting at two or more polling places on election day, or someone rounding up unregistered residents and bringing them to polling places to register and vote in exchange for money or goods.

Same-day registration is also problematic because it adds another task to the duties of election workers, many of whom are volunteers. That extra work could compromise election security by allowing both ineligible voter registration and duplicate ballots.

“Because (same-day registration) affords election officials limited time to check voter eligibility, the risk of accepting votes from ineligible voters increases greatly,” according to the American First Policy Institute.

Officials without the necessary time to verify whether a voter actually lives in the district in which they are voting means there is uncertainty about whether  fraudulent votes are being cast. For that reason, the state should jettison same-day voter registration.

If Nevada chooses to retain same-day registration, it should find ways to persuade citizens to register before Election Day, a process that, in most cases, takes but a few minutes.

Another concern is with the automatic registration of anyone who goes to the DMV, unless they opt out. Among problems: it can and does result in the registration of noncitizens, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Also, slight changes in names, such the addition or a middle name or even initial while at the DMV can result in individuals being registered twice and receiving more than one ballot at their home address.

“Rolls with many outdated names or with data entry errors are bad all round: bad for election integrity, bad for public confidence, bad for speed and bad for voter satisfaction,” Olson wrote in Efficient, Timely and Reliable.

Investigations in Nevada following the 2020 general election found that 10 deceased people had ballots cast in their name, and another 10 individuals voted more than once, according to the Nevada Independent. There have been allegations of much higher figures, as well.

Just how accurate are Nevada’s voter rolls? Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell.

Nevada is both a fast-growing state and one of the most transient in the nation. It’s easy to update one’s voter registration information online after moving, but many people don’t do so, or wait a lengthy period of time before acting.

The current system is fragmented and relies on 17 individual counties maintaining their own voter registration databases and sending that information to the state each night, according to the Review-Journal.

Fortunately, the state is in the process of implementing a centralized system, Nevada’s Voter Registration and Elections Management Solutions, or VREMS.

VREMS will bring the system under a single roof, replacing individual county-maintained voter registration rolls with a single constantly updated statewide uniform database overseen by the Nevada secretary of state.

“The new system should be much more capable of resolving real-time issues implicating multiple counties, as when people vote soon after moving from one county to another,” according to Efficient, Timely and Reliable. “Even as the program imposes some new requirements on counties, it should relieve them of considerable administrative burdens in running the previous county databases.”

The state is attempting to implement VREMS quickly and, not surprisingly, there have been some bumps.

The Nevada Secretary of State’s Office said in mid-March that it was delaying rollout of the top-down system amid concerns by election officials from more than a dozen counties that it would not be ready in time for the June primaries, as originally planned.

VREMS is essential if Nevada wants clean, accurate voter registration rolls, but success will rest with ongoing vigilance.

“This means investing in multiple frequently refreshed high-quality data sources and proactively reaching out to households and addresses following evidence of moves and other relevant changes,” Olson wrote. “Best practices also change over time and the state should make a point of keeping up.”

Nevada also benefits from its participation in the Electronic Registration and Information Center, or ERIC, a nonprofit that seeks to improve electoral integrity by helping states boost voter roll accuracy.

Member states securely submit voter registration and motor vehicle department data to ERIC. ERIC is also certified to use official death data from the Social Security Administration and subscribes to change of address data from the U.S. Postal Service.

These data sources allow ERIC to provide members with reports that identify inaccurate or out-of-date voter registration records, deceased voters, individuals who appear to be eligible to vote but who are not yet registered and possible cases of illegal voting.

About half of U.S. states belong to the Electronic Registration and Information Center, and Nevada should remain in ERIC and work to improve and refine its capabilities.

Nevada has revamped much of the way it runs elections in recent years. The state would be well advised pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, and it shouldn’t be afraid to dump the latter.

In today’s polarized political environment, it’s not enough to hold safe, secure elections; it’s important that elections have the perception of being safe and secure, as well.

Sign Up To Get Your Free Copy of Nevada Policy’s New Report on Election Integrity

Kevin Dietrich

Kevin Dietrich

Director of Mainstream Media

Kevin Dietrich joined Nevada Policy in 2022 and currently serves as the Director of Mainstream Media.

He has more than 20 years of experience in communications, including serving as the director of communications and marketing for the South Carolina Bankers Association, working as a speechwriter for South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and assisting with internal communications for CVS Caremark.

Kevin graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in Journalism and a minor in History. A fifth-generation Californian, he spent a decade as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, New York, New Hampshire and South Carolina.