Republicans accuse Nevada secretary of state of ‘impossibly high’ voter registration rates – The Nevada Independent

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Republicans are accusing Nevada of voter roll maintenance so lax that the number of registered voters exceeds the number of voting-age adults in certain counties, although the state says the GOP’s calculations are based on unreliable data.

The lawsuit, filed against Democratic Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar and five local election officials, alleges that the voter rolls in five counties are inflated, thereby violating the National Voter Registration Act, a federal law requiring states to maintain accurate voter rolls. The Republicans assert that three counties — Douglas, Lyon and Storey — have more registered voters on the rolls than adult citizens, and two jurisdictions — Carson City and Clark County — have voter registration rates of more than 90 percent of the total adult population. 

“Nevada’s impossibly high registration rates, large rates of inactive registered voters, low numbers of removals, and inconsistent enforcement across counties indicate an ongoing, systemic problem with its voter-list maintenance efforts,” plaintiffs wrote in their lawsuit, adding that such problems increase the opportunity for fraud. 

The GOP is asking a judge to find Nevada in violation of the National Voter Registration Act and provide a permanent injunction forcing the state to follow the law and improve its voter list maintenance.

The suit filed Tuesday by the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Nevada GOP against Aguilar comes as allies of former President Donald Trump launch legal efforts in swing states and Democratic areas around the country to cull voters from states’ and localities’ lists. The Nevada lawsuit follows a similar legal action taken by the RNC in Michigan — another key battleground state — last week. 

Republicans first threatened litigation about the perceived voter registration act violations in a December letter to the secretary of state’s office. 

The state responded in a lengthy letter from the attorney general’s office explaining its list maintenance efforts, rebutting the allegation that it ran afoul of the National Voter Registration Act and questioning the Republican lawyers’ math on their voter registration data. 

In its letter, the state argued that the GOP was relying on a statistical analysis based on two datasets — the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) and the 2017-2021 5-Year Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) — that it described as “comparing apples to orangutans.”

The first dataset, CPS, is a survey based on personal or telephone interviews with about 54,000 people nationwide, and is meant to provide “national level data for monitoring trends within the survey over time.”

“There is nothing to suggest it was intended, or powered, to provide accurate or precise state-level registration rates. And yet, you apply these rates as if they were absolute truth,” attorneys for the state wrote in the January letter. 

The attorneys added that the second dataset, CVAP, was based on an underlying five-year survey that courts have previously found insufficient as a basis to challenge state compliance with voter list maintenance. 

But even if a more up-to-date dataset were used, the state maintains that the data still show that the secretary of state is conducting proper list management, with a statewide active registration rate of about 86 percent. The attorneys noted that the RNC has not targeted states with far higher registration rates — suggesting the GOP is only interested in purging voter rolls in swing states.

Restrictions on cleaning voter rolls

Attorneys for the state in that letter noted that, by federal law, states are prohibited from systematically removing ineligible voters from their rolls in the 90 days before an election. With Nevada’s presidential primary in February and federal primary in June, county registrars and clerks cannot begin that voter cancellation process until June. 

The state says counties are planning to do that by sending postcards to voters whose mail ballots were returned and marked undeliverable. If the postcard is not returned within 33 days, the voter’s registration becomes inactive. 

As of February 2024, there are nearly 364,000 registered voters considered “inactive” in Nevada. Despite the terminology, inactive voters do not have their registration automatically canceled — a voter is marked as inactive once election mail sent to their on-file address is marked as undeliverable, and a separate forwardable postcard asking voters to update their address has not been returned within 30 days.

But inactive voters are still allowed to cast ballots; their voter registration status is only canceled if, once placed on the inactive voter roll, the individual does not cast a ballot in the next two federal elections (or over four years) and has no “voter activity” during that time.

Federal law makes it far easier for states to add voters to their rolls than remove them. Only a voter’s request, death, criminal conviction or change of residence can trigger a removal. The law specifically requires states to make a reasonable effort to remove voters who moved or died — not in accordance with whether or not they voted in prior elections.

Attorneys for the state also added that it’s not uncommon to have registration numbers that exceed the eligible voting population, mainly because a significant number of people move without notifying the Postal Service or election agencies, thereby remaining on the rolls despite being ineligible. 

Although the Republican plaintiffs claim that “voter fraud is very real in Nevada” and that “several recent elections have suffered” from it, those notions have been continually rejected in court. In Nevada, the courts and then-Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske found no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

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