A Temporary Setback for Nevada’s Voters

By vetoing automatic voter registration, Gov. Brian Sandoval rejected not only good policy but also the growing bipartisan consensus supporting the reform.

March 23, 2017

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s first veto in the 2017 legislative session Tuesday blocked a citizens’ initiative— which had already been approved by the legislature — to adopt automatic voter registration in the state. The initiative will be submitted to voters in the next general election. His decision is plainly out of step with nationwide momentum — six states and the District of Columbia have adopted the reform, and in this legislative session alone at least 28 states have introduced legislation to implement or expand it.

Automatic registration introduces two transformative, yet simple, changes to voter registration: Eligible citizens who interact with government agencies like the DMV are registered to vote unless they decline, and agencies transfer voter registration information electronically to election officials. These two changes create a seamless process that is more convenient and less error-prone for both voters and government officials. The policy boosts registration rates, cleans up the rolls, makes voting more convenient, and reduces the risk of voter registration databases being hacked — by Russia or anyone else — all while lowering costs.

This session, advocates pushed hard for legislative passage, building on prior efforts to modernize voter registration. In September 2010, Nevada introduced an online registration portal for residents of Clark County, home to 72 percent of the state’s population. Both the Secretary of State’s office and the county registrar deemed the system a resounding success, leading to its expansion statewide in advance of the 2012 election. In 2011 and 2013, the Brennan Center and other groups urged the legislature, through testimony and other advocacy, to implement at least the electronic-transfer building block of automatic registration as part of an overhaul to modernize.

With his veto, Sandoval rejected not only good policy and his opportunity to help more than 350,000 Nevadans who, according to state and U.S. Census data, are eligible yet unregistered to vote, but also the growing bipartisan consensus supporting automatic registration. Over the past two years, Democratic and Republican officials from Vermont to Utah have been passing automatic registration bills in state legislative houses, often at the strong encouragement of election officials like California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) and Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R).

Now, Nevada will now be depending on its electorate to vote for the state to join the other jurisdictions that have incorporated this important change to their elections.

Convincing voters that automatic registration is right for Nevada is eminently doable. It will require outreach by advocates and a well-funded public education campaign. Thankfully, the target audience should be receptive: a majority of Americans across the political spectrum support the reform.

Getting Nevada 21st Century voter registration has been no cakewalk, but in the struggle for the franchise, history teaches that while the fight is rarely easy, the people ultimately win.