What If Republicans Had Encouraged Early Voting by Mail in Nevada?
This post explores how the 2022 general election in Nevada was impacted by Republicans’ refusal to embrace the state’s new rules around early voting by mail, instead fomenting mistrust and encouraging in-person voting on Election Day.
Since the 2022 midterms, the Republican Party and key Republican officials across the country have begun to embrace early voting. Yet, to their own detriment, top Republicans in Nevada continue to send the message that voting by mail is untrustworthy.
Mail-In Voting Adopted in Nevada
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and voters’ fears of gathering at polling places on Election Day, Nevada enacted a temporary mail-in ballot program for the 2020 election. All voters, whether they asked for it or not, were mailed a ballot and could choose to vote by mail or discard the ballot and vote in person. With ballots arriving in millions of mailboxes across the state, it should be unsurprising that nearly half of the votes tallied in 2020 came through the mail.
Following the popularity of mail-in voting in 2020, Nevada’s legislative Democrats enshrined the pandemic-era process. Assembly Bill 321, which passed on party lines, requires county clerks to mail every voter a ballot in advance of each election unless the voter affirmatively opts out. Whether Republicans liked it or not, the 2022 statewide elections would be conducted under these new rules.
2022: A Year of Competitive Races
Many elections in Nevada during the 2022 cycle were extremely competitive. The U.S. Senate race, which saw more than 1 million votes cast, was decided by less than 8,000 votes—a 0.78 percent margin. Three of the four U.S. House races were won by candidates with less than 53 percent of the vote. The offices of Secretary of State and State Treasurer were each decided by about two percentage points, with neither of the winning candidates receiving a majority of votes. Other local elections were decided by even narrower margins. The election for Clark County Commissioner saw the winning candidate prevail by a mere 336 votes with over 100,000 ballots cast—just 0.31 percent. In each of these elections, the Democrat defeated the Republican.
Winning Strategies Are Aligned with the Rules
One key contributor to the Democrats’ razor-thin victories was their embrace of voting by mail. Democrats disproportionately adopted the new voting method, particularly in the state’s population centers, while Republicans relied on in-person voting on Election Day. This strategy backfired, as Nevada experienced severe weather on Election Day—making the in-person voting experience much more difficult. Overall turnout was nearly 55 percent, with over half of all ballots cast by mail and only around 21 percent cast in person on Election Day.
Indeed, Drew Johnson, the narrowly defeated Republican candidate for Clark County Commissioner, argued that his loss (and ostensibly those of other Republican candidates) could be blamed on GOP leaders who inaccurately led voters to believe that voting by mail is not secure. He pointed to the “nearly 18,000 registered Republicans in the district [who] did not cast a ballot.”
If Republican leaders in Nevada and across the country had encouraged their voters to vote by mail, making votes less subject to weather and other disruptions, Republicans would have found themselves in a better position to win far more seats in the Silver State, including key statewide offices. In fact, it is possible that the 51-49 majority for Democrats in the U.S. Senate would instead be a 50-50 split, leaving no wiggle room for a moderate Democratic senator to break from the party. Ultimately, Nevada Republicans—and Republicans nationwide—would have benefited from embracing early voting by mail. While some GOP elites are starting to respond to the changes in rules with a new strategy that promotes mail-in voting, the party has a long way to go.
Read other posts in the “What If …” series.