LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada is attempting a high-wire act of holding its first-ever election almost entirely by mail while accommodating a new law allowing voters to register at the polls and trying to keep people safe amid the pandemic.
Nevada shifted its Tuesday primary election away from in-person voting, where long lines and shared surfaces present risks of spreading the coronavirus. Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske limited the number of polling places and instead sent absentee ballots to voters that can be mailed back or dropped off — a break from the practice of most Nevada voters who prefer to show up in person at the polls, typically during two weeks of early voting.
Despite the disruption, the change doesn't appear to be making a big dent in turnout. As of Monday morning, more than 341,000 ballots had been cast, which represents about 21% turnout. Two years ago, 23% of active voters participated in the primary and in 2016, turnout was 18.5%.
Washoe County Registrar of Voters Deanna Spikula has backed off her original prediction that mail-in balloting could boost overall turnout in the Reno-Sparks area.
“It's probably going to be closer to average than I anticipated at the beginning,” she said Monday.
She said she doesn't know what to expect Tuesday and is prepared to keep open the lone in-person polling place in her county beyond the 7 p.m. closing time if necessary.
“But I don't expect we'll have more than we can handle,” Spikula said.
The top-ticket races include Nevada’s four U.S. House seats, where the incumbents — three Democrats and one Republican— are all expected to sail through the primary challenges. The biggest question will be who their opponents will be in November.
Two Democratic-held U.S. House seats, Nevada’s 3rd and 4th Districts, could flip to Republicans in the November general election. That’s drawn a number of GOP candidates to face off in the primary.
In Nevada’s 3rd District, encompassing southwest Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City and Laughlin, Republicans have six candidates to choose from. They include former professional wrestler Dan Rodimer and former state treasurer Dan Schwartz.
Democrat Rep. Susie Lee is facing two challengers in the primary, but she’s considered a heavy favorite.
Nevada’s 4th District, held by Democrat Steven Horsford, has drawn eight Republicans to the race, including former state lawmaker Jim Marchant and business owner and former Miss Nevada Lisa Song Sutton, who recently acknowledged she hasn’t voted in 12 years.
Horsford’s performance in the primary will be watched closely after he acknowledged having a years-long extramarital affair, but he’s not expected to face any serious challenge.
In northern Nevada, Republican Mark Amodei is expected to easily fend off two challengers to his 2nd District seat. Though Amodei is expected to win reelection in the Republican-heavy district in November, Democrats hoping to improve their numbers are lining up to challenge him.
Seven Democrats will vie to become their party’s nominee and take on Amodei, including retired mountaineer and actress Patricia Ackerman, former journalist Ed Cohen and former Obama administration official Clint Koble.
In Nevada’s 1st District, encompassing the casino-lined Las Vegas Strip, incumbent Democrat Dina Titus is expected to fend off two poorly funded challengers. On the other side of the aisle, four Republicans are seeking the seat, but only one has filed a campaign finance report and it disclosed little fundraising. Whoever wins the GOP primary will face a likely insurmountable challenge against Titus in the Democrat-heavy district.
Voters also will settle inter-party contests in nearly 30 state Senate and Assembly races and narrow the field in non-partisan races for two state Supreme Court seats, nearly two dozen family and district court judgeships, three university regent races and three Board of Education contests.
Cegavske’s office sent absentee ballots to all active registered voters, which includes those who have voted in one of the past two federal elections, updated their registration or had some other contact with election officials.
Inactive voters in Clark County, the state’s biggest, were automatically mailed ballots after a legal challenge from the Nevada State Democratic Party. In other counties, inactive voters who didn’t request a ballot must show up at their polling place. Those who aren’t registered or want to change parties must now do that in person Tuesday.
Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.