Photo By David Robert Washoe County voter registrar Dan Burk says federal law will soon require Nevada to be ready, technologically, for same-day voter registration. The decision of whether to go ahead with it will then be up to state legislators.

New systems allow for later voter registration
Nevada’s new voter registration system, which will be brought on line within 17 months, will eliminate the concerns that have blocked Election Day registration, reports a Washoe elections official.

Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller tried to win approval of same-day registration, as it’s called, at the 2003 Nevada Legislature but finally abandoned the effort in the face of stiff opposition. However, federal law will satisfy many of the worries that defeated Heller.

During the legislative session, Senate Government Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ann O’Connell, a Clark County Republican, voiced a long-standing objection: “I have a real concern about the same-day registration. I just have no idea how in the world they would know how many places the people have voted.”

But by January 2006, Nevada must be in possession of equipment that puts the state in compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Washoe County Voter Registrar Dan Burk says that equipment will make it possible to do what previously seemed so difficult to O’Connell and other skeptics.

“The rationale for not allowing Election Day registration has always been that a person could go, for instance, to Washoe County and register in the morning and vote and then go to Carson City in the afternoon and register and vote and then on to Douglas County and register and vote, and none of us would be the wiser that this person voted three times at the same election until after the election, too late to uncount the ballots he or she cast,” Burk said.

“But with the statewide, real time, voter registration system we are required to have under HAVA by January 2006,” he continued, “the argument for not having Election Day registration will no longer have any legs.”

Burk says a quick computer check will determine if an Election Day registrant has voted elsewhere.

At least six states—Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—allow eligible residents to register and vote on Election Day. This takes place only at the central county voter registration office, not at all polling places (which are for use only by voters who register in advance). That represents a significant advance, since for a very long time only Minnesota permitted same-day registration. However, voters in California and Colorado rejected 2002 ballot measures that would have added their states to the list. Oregon discontinued it with the advent of that state’s vote-by-mail system.

In the past, some Nevada legislators, particularly Republicans, have opposed election reforms like registering to vote at the motor vehicles office. However, when “motor voter,” as it’s called, was finally introduced in Nevada in 1987-88, Republicans were surprised to learn they got most of the new registrants.

Burk, who was an Oregon elections official during the use of same-day registration, says there is an institutional resistance to it among some Nevada election officials, but he says, “To be honest, there is no good reason not to have it here once the statewide registration system is developed.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...