LAS VEGAS – Nevada’s first presidential election in decades drew light voter turnout on Tuesday, with Democrats casting ballots early and by mail, while Republicans looked to a competitive caucus on Thursday.
The Nevada Secretary of State said only 3,800 Nevadans went to the polls in the first three hours of voting Tuesday, as President Joe Biden faces only nominal opposition in the Democratic race and Republican nominee Donald Trump is not even on his party’s ballot.
“Oh, that’s a disappointing turnout,” said one voter as he arrived at an empty polling place at the Silver Springs Recreation Center in Henderson.
Nevada Republicans are holding a separate caucus Thursday to determine delegates to the national convention. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appears on Tuesday’s primary ballot, though some Republicans who voted Tuesday opted to vote for “none of these candidates” to show their support for Trump.
Both parties have preferred caucuses to determine representatives in previous elections. But state lawmakers moved to the 2024 primary after adopting new Democratic National Committee rules that discourage caucuses and a revised calendar that removes Iowa and New Hampshire from traditional leadership races.
Voters and local officials also attributed the low turnout at the polls to bad weather and competing interest in Las Vegas’ first Super Bowl on Sunday. The local media provides extensive coverage of the build-up to the NFL’s signature event rather than non-competitive nomination races.
“A lot of people on the Republican side are confused because you have two choices here,” registered Republican Tom Sobol said after voting in Las Vegas. Sobol said he also plans to hold a caucus for Trump on Thursday.
“It’s kind of sad, you know, they changed the rules,” he said. “I think everybody believes he’s going to be Donald Trump.”
By noon, only 30 people had voted at Martha King Elementary School in Boulder City. Alison Inglett, who said she was unable to attend Thursday’s convention, said she chose “none of these candidates” in Tuesday’s primary.
“I think it adds a lot of confusion,” he said of separate competitions. “I think this is another way to manipulate the political system. And it doesn’t really give everyone a chance to speak for the candidates and express their opinion.
Despite low voter turnout on Tuesday, Democrats highlighted strong showings in early and mail-in voting ahead of the first day of what the Biden campaign sees as a critical organizational test in this general election battleground. A memo from the Nevada Democratic Party noted that before Tuesday, turnout among Democrats had nearly matched overall turnout in the highly competitive 2020 Democratic caucuses.
Of the 127,716 mail-in ballots accepted to be counted, 62%, and about 61% of the 14,400 in-person advance votes cast, were in the Democratic primary, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
“I believe Biden is doing a great job,” said Wanda Maria Pacheco Newton, who voted in Las Vegas on Tuesday. “I’m sorry he wasn’t recognized.”
Biden held a rally here Sunday night and met with union workers on Monday, a week after he suspended the campaign of Vice President Kamala Harris. Both made multiple stops in South Carolina ahead of the state’s first official Democratic primary, which the campaign said tested his connection with black voters nationally. But as one Biden adviser put it, “Nevada is about November.”
“Nevada Dems and the Biden for Nevada team are working together to prioritize the presidency to begin engaging early with the communities we know will make up our margin of victory,” said Hilary Barrett, executive director of the Nevada Democratic Party.
Nevada’s early, mail-in and in-person voting totals lag behind the more than 450,000 votes cast in New Hampshire’s Jan. 23 primary. There, even with Biden dropping out, the 125,811 turnout in the Democratic primary was just shy of the 131,286 votes cast in South Carolina’s Democratic primary.
Speaking after the polls closed Saturday, Rep. James Clyburn, D-C., suggested that the Democratic National Committee should reverse its decision not to seat New Hampshire’s delegates.
“They worked hard. And they won, and I’d like to see that as a sign that we’re all on our way to victory in November,” he said of the New Hampshire Democrats, who are running a massive write-in campaign.