If either Adam Laxalt or Joe Lombardo wins in a squeaker, he’ll owe his victory to a law championed by Democrats.
Since the 2020 election, there has been an unexpected shift in Nevada’s political landscape. Republicans are surging. A 6.1 percentage point advantage for Democrats in July 2017 has dropped to 2.8 percent in July 2022. In raw numbers, the statewide gap between Democrats and Republican voters has gone from more than 90,000 to under 51,000.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Conventional wisdom held that the rise of Hispanic voters would turn Nevada solid blue. Four years ago, that appeared to be happening. In 2018, Democrats won nearly every major office in the state.
That same year, voters approved an initiative implementing automatic voter registration. Unless one actively opts out, those who go to the DMV are automatically registered to vote. Progressive groups spent millions backing this ballot question. The logic was simple: Nevada has more Democrats, so if more people register, there will be more Democrats.
When the proposal came before the 2017 Legislature before being placed on the ballot, Democrats voted for it and Republicans opposed it. Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, vetoed the idea. You would have to be naïve to think the legislative vote didn’t reveal what members of each party thought the bill would do for their party’s electoral chances.
Four years later, however, there is mounting evidence that automatic registration is primarily helping Republicans.
President Joe Biden has done a terrible job. Inflation, housing costs and gasoline prices have soared, fueled in part of exorbitant spending. He surrendered in Afghanistan. He’s embraced the left’s woke agenda. That’s partly why Nevada Republicans have made some gains, especially as Hispanic voters nationwide turn red.
Before, Democrats had a trump card when Republican registration surged. They were better organized and funded. They used those advantages to register more voters.
In July 2016, Democrats had a 72,000-voter lead in registration. By October, it was nearly 89,000. Democrats saw a nearly 9,000-voter increase from summer to fall in 2018.
Then automatic voter registration went into effect. The Democrat surge didn’t happen in 2020. Their registration lead decreased by more than 6,000 from July 2020 to October 2020. Of course, the efforts of two competing presidential campaigns were a major factor.
But DMV registrations mattered, too. What appears to be happening is that many voters who previously would have registered as Democrats are becoming nonpartisan voters at the DMV. From October 2018 to July 2022, nonpartisan and third-party registrations are up more than 232,000. Democrats stayed steady, while Republicans gained almost 25,000 voters.
Far more people are registered, but not in a way that’s helpful for Democrats. As a newspaper reader, you may vote in every election. Most people don’t. Campaigns spend lots of money turning out their likely voters. But that’s harder to do when people who lean your way register without selecting your political party.
Thanks to the bill they pushed, Democrats now don’t know which new voters to turn out. In a close election, they could be the difference between winning and losing.