CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — In Nevada, registered Democrats have returned almost twice as many mail-in ballots as registered Republicans, but the deficit doesn’t faze state GOP Chair Michael McDonald.
“If you look at our Get Out The Vote program, it’s focused 100% on getting people to the polls,” he said. “As far as the Democrats, that’s on them. I know in our game plan, we anticipated them working the mail ballots.”
McDonald feels confident because, unlike prior elections in Nevada, Republicans lead in early in-person voting.
Nevada’s decision to mail all active voters ballots ahead of the November election has defied conventional wisdom about voter preferences and raised questions for party leaders trying to get a handle on the state of the race in its final days.
State Republicans and President Donald Trump have repeatedly sown doubt about mail-in ballots and are relying on high in-person voter turnout to even the score and compete in a state that the president lost by a narrow 2.4 percentage-point margin in 2016.
Historically, Democrats have outpaced Republicans in early voting, while a higher percentage of Republican and independent voters have voted on Election Day, narrowing the gap between the two parties. With one day of early voting remaining, election officials are reporting Republicans outpacing Democrats in early voting and Democrats returning nearly twice as many mail-in ballots as Republicans. Accounting for all forms of voting, 44,000 more registered Democrats have voted than registered Republicans.
The divergent voter behaviors mirror how the two parties have approached their get-out-the-vote efforts: Democrats have hyped the new universal mail ballot law and Republicans have focused mainly on in-person voting.
Democrats say they’ve emphasized all voting options in their education and outreach efforts and taken extra care to describe Nevada’s new mail voting system in detail.
“We’ve always known this election would look different,” Nevada State Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II said in a statement. “It’s no surprise Democrats are overwhelmingly taking advantage of the ease and convenience of voting by mail by either mailing their ballot back or returning it at a dropbox location.”
In Nevada’s rural Republican enclaves and liberal-leaning cities, the majority of voters traditionally cast ballots early at in-person voting sites. In 2016, 62% voted early and 31% voted on Election Day. But after all voters were mailed ballots, less have shown up at early voting sites — particularly Democrats.
About 226,000 registered Republicans had voted at early voting sites as of Friday; significantly more than the 148,000 Democrats who have voted early in-person. Registered Democrats had mailed almost 262,000 ballots back as of Friday, while registered Republicans had mailed about 139,000 back.
Republicans are also leading Democrats in same-day registration, 11,449 to 10,693.
Nevada’s voter behavior patterns and high preliminary turnout match early voting data in other states, including Florida and Pennsylvania. However, party registration does not necessarily indicate candidate preferences and the two-party comparison does not account for the 247,000 voters who have cast ballots that aren’t registered to either party.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.