Nevada Led the Country in Expanding the Vote. Now, It’s Eyeing Voter ID

A Democratic secretary of state made registration easier and supported early voting, leading to dramatic turnout. So why is he now proposing a plan that could disenfranchise voters?

By Aura Bogado Dec 03, 2012

Nevada boasted the nation’s highest turnout increase on Election Day, thanks to its innovative efforts to make voting more accessible. But less than a month later, Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat, is now suggesting the use of voter ID–which could reverse his own efforts to expand democracy and mean a lower turnout in subsequent elections. 

More than one million people voted in Nevada’s general election this year, up 4.5 percent from 2008. The Western state is a perennial battleground, and voters there have always sided with the eventual presidential winner in each of the past nine elections. In 2008, Latinos were credited with helping then-candidate Barack Obama take the presidency, and Latinos knew that registration and get out the vote efforts would also prove crucial this year. 

As we reported in October, a Latina organizer who was registering voters outside of a Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles office was so badly intimidated that she dyed her hair blond in order to avoid more  problems. It didn’t help. Elvira Díaz says she continued to be harassed, and was physically shoved and spat on by a Republican operative named Alex Bacchus, who also gestured his hands into the shape of a gun, aimed those hands at her, and made gunshot sounds. 

For his part, Nevada Secretary of State Miller helped streamline the registration process by allowing voters to register online. In 2010, Miller began using funds made available from the Help America Vote Act to create a new online registration system. Two years and about $250,000 later, voters in all 17 Nevada counties could use online registration–similar systems are available in only ten other states. The move allowed people with Internet access to avoid being subject to intimidation for registering. Making registration conveniently available online helped drive Nevada’s turnout increase. 

Early voting also helped. More than 600,000 people voted in the two weeks prior to Election Day, accounting for 61 percent of the total number of ballots cast. People in low income and predominately Latino neighborhoods complained of long waits, and some voters were asked for identification when none was required. Yet the push for registration and early voting meant that a whopping 80 percent of voters participated–and chose to re-elect President Obama. 

But the otherwise smooth election did run into one major glitch as early voting closed. Roxanne Rubin, a registered Republican, was arrested on November 2, and charged with a felony for attempting to vote twice. According to a sworn affidavit used to support an arrest warrant, Rubin had voted at one location earlier in the week but was disturbed that she did not need to provide identification when she altered her signature. The criminal investigator in Rubin’s case "compared the signatures and noticed only subtle differences in the handwriting; specifically in the R’s."

According to the affidavit, Rubin attempted to vote at a neighboring location about half an hour later because she "was dissatisfied with the process" of not having to show ID, and wanted to test whether she could vote twice. When she was told by poll workers that she could not cast an additional ballot because the system showed that she had already voted, Rubin got angry, and claimed the poll workers were "screwing up." She also claimed she hadn’t already voted, but wanted to. Rubin knew full well that she could be arrested for attempting to vote twice–and she was. 

Rubin belongs to the party that wants to put a stop to the nearly nonexistent problem of voter fraud by implementing voter ID laws. Aside from the irony of Rubin’s case, it illustrates that even if poll workers do demand identification, it doesn’t stop an individual from taking it upon themselves to attempt to vote twice. It also illustrates that, despite the fact that Nevada doesn’t ask for identification each time an individual votes, the state was effective in identifying and prosecuting voter fraud. It seems that Rubin was so desperate to uncover voter fraud that she had to engage in it in order to make it real. She has now joined the tiny camp of people who commit actual voter fraud. As a News21 investigation concluded, voter fraud is practically non existent–but ID laws do disenfranchise voters.  

Which is why Secretary of State Miller’s plan to now promote a form of photo voter ID has puzzled voting rights activists. Miller hasn’t proposed specific legislation, but he says he wants to start a type of electronic poll book that would be linked to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Those people who don’t have a DMV-issued driver’s license or identification would have their photos taken at their polling location, along with some other measures. 

But it might not be as simple as it seems. Verifying identification, with the additional step of taking photographs and signing affidavits would result in longer lines. Since people of color and Native Americans are often less likely to have DMV-issued cards, polling places with these populations would be more likely to have the long lines, which might deter people from casting a ballot. 

"I have no idea why Secretary Miller is doing this," said Leigh Chapman, a staff attorney with Advancement Project. 

Chapman referenced a Las Vegas Sun article in which Ross conceded that voter fraud isn’t a widespread problem, but argued that "elections are about perception," and that people needed system safeguards to "feel confident in the integrity of the process." 

The article goes on to quote Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen, who has long backed voter ID, as saying that he "love[s] it when Democrats become conservative Republicans at least temporarily," in reference to Miller’s proposal. 

But Chapman is more concerned about Miller’s own comments. She said the people of Nevada know that the system already works–and the nation-leading increase in turnout this year shows it. Rather than inspire confidence, the new system would be costly and would disenfranchise voters, she added.