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Nevadans’ Voting Habits May Change But Participation Is Another Story

More and more Nevadans are taking advantage of opportunities to cast ballots during the state’s early voting period, but this trend may not mean an increase in the number of those voting.

Early voting in Nevada runs for two weeks: from the Saturday 17 days before the election, to the Friday four days before election day. In the 2014 general election, early voting began on Saturday, Oct. 18 and will run through Friday, Oct. 31. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Each individual county’s early voting schedule may vary, however. Clark County, by far the largest by population with nearly 70 percent of the state’s registered voters, has early voting locations throughout the early voting period.

With over 1 million registered voters, Clark County has 88 early voting sites. Between 22 and 28 of these are open each day during the early voting period, including on Sundays.

Nevada’s second-largest county, Washoe, which includes Reno, has 21 early voting locations. These sites rotate, with between 13 and 20 open on any given day.

Some of Nevada’s rural counties are very sparsely-populated. Esmeralda County, for instance, has just 556 registered voters, and Eureka County has just 940. It makes little sense to have multiple early voting sites in counties with so few people. The 15 counties other than Clark and Washoe together comprise just 12.4 percent of registered voters in the state.

Of these 15 counties, 10 have just one early voting site open. Another, Pershing County, has just one early voting site (in Lovelock), except that on the last Saturday of early voting, an additional site is open. This additional site is for just one precinct—precinct 6, Winnemucca, 75 miles from Lovelock. The early voting sites in many of the smaller counties are not open on Sundays.

In the counties with multiple early voting sites, any voter registered in a county may vote at any site within that county during the early voting period. However, on election day, each voter may vote only at the designated site for his or her precinct.

Nevada also allows voters to vote via mailed ballots, also known as absentee ballots because they formerly were used by those who would be away on election Dday. Today, Nevada allows any registered voter to request a mailed ballot. Mailed ballots must be received by Election Day to be counted.

Because many of Nevada’s counties have very small populations in large geographic areas, there are certain precincts in some counties in which voters may only vote by mail.

Typically, the early vote and mailed ballot results for each county are announced shortly after the close of the polls on election day.

The portion of those voting in elections who choose to take advantage of early voting has significantly increased in the last ten years. The proportion of voters who do so during the early voting period has risen in Nevada from about 40 percent of those participating in the 2004 and 2006 elections to more than 60 percent in 2012.

Mailed ballots represented around 10 percent of those cast in 2004 and 2006 but only around 8 percent in more recent elections. The percentage of votes cast on election day has fallen from around half in the mid-2000’s to less than 1/3 in 2012.

These changes in methods of voting, however, appear to have had little effect on the portion of the electorate that participates in elections. Even as more and more voters choose to vote early rather than on election day, approximately 80 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in Presidential elections and around 60 percent in off-year elections.

Overall turnout appears to be affected more by the interest of the electorate than it is by the availability of voting options.

Michael Chamberlain

Michael Chamberlain is the Editor of Watchdog Wire - Nevada. Please contact him at Nevada@watchdogwire.com for story ideas or to get involved in citizen journalism in Nevada. Follow Michael on Twitter: @michaelpchamber

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