There are no voter ID requirements at the polls in Nevada. In addition to registering to vote through their county registrar’s office or at the Department of Motor Vehicles, residents can register online, including via cellphone app. Clark County uses mobile voting trailers to bring polls closer to people who might not have easy access.
Yet, in the 2012 general election, only 57.9 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in Nevada – below the national average that year of 61.8 percent. Nevada even lagged behind Georgia, a state with a strict voter ID law.
Why isn’t there higher voter turnout in Nevada?
“Some people say because we’re such a transient state. You know, people come and go. They move here and they leave,” said Barbara Cegavske, Nevada’s secretary of state. “We have so many different shifts, you know, because of the hotels. We have a lot of different shifts. I mean, those are just anecdotal things that people say.”
Gloria echoes Cegavske, while advancing a theory of his own. “With the economic downturn all of our tourism industry jobs became difficult to find and so we had quite a bit of turnaround in the population here.”
Whatever the cause, election officials like Gloria and Cegavske are determined to turn the situation around. Cegavske and her deputy secretary of state for elections, Wayne Thorley, spend a great deal of time on voter outreach that includes visiting middle and high schools.
“We encourage the kids to go home and talk to their parents, because we know their parents are of age. They’re able to vote. So we ask them go home and talk to your parents about voting. Tell them about how important it is that their voice be heard. Tell them how important it is for you that they vote because it’s your future,” said Cegavske, who also noted the voter outreach efforts of community organizations in the state.
One such organization, Mi Familia Vota, sits in a nondescript office park a few miles from the Las Vegas Strip. The organization, founded with the goal of building Latino political power, currently operates out of six states, including Nevada, where it engages in public relations campaigning and canvassing for voter registration.
In 2012, 52 percent of Latinos in Nevada cast a vote in the general election. That was 4 percentage points higher than the national average of 48 percent for Latino Americans, but lower than the average for all eligible Nevada voters. Latinos make up just over 28 percent of Nevada’s population of 2.9 million people. The goal of Mi Familia Vota is to marshal those people and their considerable potential influence by getting them to the polls.
“It’s not that hard to get involved in politics in Nevada, especially here in Clark County. The elections department is very easy to work with. They definitely give out the resources they can in order to ensure that people are engaged,” said Jocelyn Sida, state deputy director of Mi Familia Vota for Nevada. “They help organizations like ours be aware of early voting dates so that we can inform our community to be able to participate in the election.”
A few miles north of Mi Familia Vota’s office, 19-year-old Michael Gonzalez stands in the shade outside a Mexican supermarket, clipboard in hand, in 100-degree-plus heat. Gonzalez is a canvasser for Mi Familia Vota. He has been working with them since January. Interested in politics from an early age, he was drawn to Mi Familia Vota and its engagement of Latino voters. He happily endures the scorching temperatures, but not everyone shares his passion.
“There’s a lot of bad days doing this job. There’s people that will ignore you, or they just won’t acknowledge that you’re there. But you just – you have to keep going. Remember why you’re doing this,” said Gonzalez. “Coming to Hispanic supermarkets, we get a lot of people who just became citizens, so it’s really a good feeling when you get those people who just became citizens and they’re able to finally register, and it changes their lives in that they now have a voice that they didn’t have before.”