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Senate approves extending voter registration

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CARSON CITY — A bill to extend voter registration deadlines has passed the Nevada Legislature on mostly partisan lines, but faces a likely veto by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The Nevada Senate approved AB440 late Thursday on a vote of 11-10. It now goes back to the Assembly for a technical adjustment before heading to the governor.

It passed the Assembly 25-16 in April, with only Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton of Las Vegas breaking ranks with the Democratic majority by voting against it.

The bill extends voter registration through the end of early voting, now the Friday before an election. People who register in person during the early voting period would be allowed to cast a ballot immediately.

Registration currently closes three weeks before an election. In committee testimony, Secretary of State Ross Miller said more than 7,000 people registered after the cutoff last year and were ineligible to cast ballots.

Democrats say longer registration periods will help military personnel and people who become interested in elections late in the process to participate.

“I’ve been overseas and thought I was coming home in October. Then was told no, you’re going home in May,” Sen. Pat Spearman, a military veteran, told members of the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections earlier this month.

“I’ve lived it so I can talk it,” she said, adding that if the bill helps one person be able to cast a ballot, “it’s worth it.”

But some Republicans expressed concerns that the change would invite fraud. They also said existing law gives people more than enough time to register — a view shared by Sandoval, a Republican halfway through his first term and preparing for his re-election campaign next year.

“Under the current system, Nevadans have ample time to register and vote, including registering online and voting early or absentee,” Mary-Sarah Kinner, Sandoval’s communications director, said in an email Friday.

That’s an argument shared by some Democrats, who grappled with the need for the bill but ended up supporting it.

Democratic Sens. Mark Manendo of Las Vegas and Kelvin Atkinson of North Las Vegas questioned in committee how extending registration would cure voter apathy, noting that elections are preceded by weeks of campaign telephone calls, TV ads, mailers and volunteers walking districts.

“If you do all that and are still not capturing that person ... I don’t know if another week is going to matter,” Manendo said. “I’m so torn ... at some point you have to have deadlines.”

An amendment to the bill also would have allowed voters to “opt in” to receive sample ballots electronically instead of by mail.

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