If it wasn’t voter fraud, why did Trump lose Nevada?
After an extensive analysis of Nevada voting in 2016 and 2020, including a deep dive into Washoe County voting files, I could not find evidence of widespread (or any) fraud. What I found was trends and behaviors that were consistent for both registered Republicans and Democrats, such as hitches related to changing an address or having an out-of-state mailing address while still residing primarily in Nevada.
Each new day seems to bring a new set of conspiracy theories and disingenuous partisan “analysis,” including numerous claims from attorney Jesse Binnall that I recently reviewed. While many Republicans continue to tap dance to Trump’s tune of alleged fraud, it seems to me that many are missing the opportunity to learn why the president failed to earn a second term from voters in Nevada and elsewhere.
Let me first provide a rejoinder to the fraud claims Binnall recently made before Congress, then turn to the question, “If it wasn’t fraud, why did Trump lose Nevada?” (If you read my piece yesterday, you can probably skip this part — although I do provide some new information here.)
Binnall claims there were thousands of people who voted twice in 2020.
Yes, there were some duplicate votes, as shown in my analysis of the Washoe voter file — about as many for registered Republicans as for Democrats. The only group that was much higher for this metric was TEA NV; they were twice as likely to vote twice (but there were only 33 of those).
The most common duplicates were related to a change of address. I found about 3,800 people who voted twice (once by mail and then in person – no one votes twice by mail because you need the mailing envelope with the unique voter code that matches your ballot). Double-voting instances are caught in the system when either (a.) the person showed up to vote in person after already mailing a ballot or (b.) a mail ballot was received after someone had voted in person.
Patterns in Washoe’s duplicate voting records don’t show any signs of widespread fraud. They do show some confusion from voters about whether a mail ballot was actually received. Given all the press around issues with the postal service and politicization of mail-in ballots, is this really a surprise? Better, easier-to-access tracking both online and at the polls would make it easier for people to trace their own ballot and know for sure it was received so as to limit duplicate voting in the future.
Binnall also claims he sees dead voters.
Binnall has not released his data file of alleged dead voters, so it is not possible to verify his claims. (Jesse, please post your data — with their VoterIDs.) It seems likely that Binnall is conflating a dead person being on the active voter rolls and actually voting. It is unclear how many Nevada ballots were cast by supposedly dead voters. It is also unclear whether these were equally likely to come from registered Republicans as from Democrats.
What is clear is that before a vote is processed, the Nevada voter file is checked against Social Security & Vital statistics. (Please see the ERIC database for more on how Nevada and 30 other states check the data). While the process is not perfect, Nevada’s goal is that 80 percent of deaths be reported within 10 days via the electronic system. Some deaths take longer to appear in the Vital Statistics database. But success even at an 80 percent level would make the number of dead Nevada voters who cast a ballot (and which were then counted in the final tally) very small — and quite unlikely to have any material difference in the statewide election outcome.
Binnall also claims that thousands of out-of-state voters (not members of the military or students) voted in Nevada.
It goes without saying that people are allowed to own more than one home in more than one state, and Nevada residents who own homes outside the state are permitted to vote in Nevada (provided they meet residency requirements). For example, about 3 percent of registered voters in Washoe list an out-of-state mailing address. The out-of-state voters in Washoe were found to be 12 percent more likely to be registered Republicans than registered Democrats. If anything, then, the small portion of out-of-state voting favors Republicans.
Binnall claims people registered to vote with a “false address.”
My analysis of the Washoe voter file found that about 3.5 percent of registered Republicans and 3.7 percent of registered Democrats had an address listed that was undeliverable via mail.
One example of a non-verifiable address is my Republican friend, his registered Republican wife and their registered Republican adult daughter who are building a new home. Their mail ballot could not be delivered to their new home address, as it was little more than a concrete pad at that time. They all early voted (shown as code EV in their voter file) and at that time, they corrected the not-yet-valid address to reflect their current rental address (see Voter IDs 109204, 151227, 504711). The three of them show up in the voter file as duplicates, given their change of address. This isn’t fraud. This is life.
Binnall claims that thousands of non-citizens voted.
According to the UCSIS.gov website, 843,593 people were naturalized in the U.S. last year. Over the past decade, more than 8 million people have gained their citizenship. Given Nevada’s population relative to the U.S., that works out to about 8,500 new citizens in Nevada each year — and more than 30,000 in the past four years.
Binnall points to 3,100 people who may have voted illegally because they have a form of ID that is typically given to documented non-citizens. But as these IDs are typically valid for four years, it is not only possible but probable that the majority who voted using that ID were naturalized since receiving the ID — and thus voted legally.
Again, as Binnall did not publish his data, there is no way to evaluate the distribution of the 3,100 by registered party or to otherwise follow-up on claims of vote rigging. At best, as with many of the claims from Binnall, it is inconclusive and doesn’t show any evidence of systemic fraud.
Binnall’s claims are clearly paid-for partisan shade to cast doubt on the election. They fail to mention that there is no systematic or system-wide difference between registered Republicans or registered Democrats in terms of duplicates, out-of-state mailing addresses, or anything else. They also fail to contextualize which alleged issues represent a small corner of cases and which alleged ones, if proven, would be larger than the Biden margin of victory. His law firm’s efforts, paid for by Trump, seem to be, “Throw everything at the wall in hope that something sticks.”
Unfortunately, all that Binnall and other Trump surrogates have achieved is the disillusionment of the Republican electorate. According to a recent Morning Consult poll, trust in elections has plummeted among Republicans: Prior to the election, 66 percent of GOP voters said they had at least some trust in the U.S. election system. In the latest poll, that dropped to 33 percent. Democratic trust, meanwhile, jumped from 63 percent to 83 percent.
I don't believe most Republicans did homework on the actual voting data the way I did (though I have made it available through numerous channels in the hope that they might consider it). Nor do I believe the Democrats have done an objective analysis of the data. Instead, members of both parties are experiencing classic confirmation bias. But here is the destructive part for Republicans: If the party line remains "The election was stolen from us," and leaders don't stand up and say, “We lost — we need to work smarter and harder next election,” then might Republican disillusionment turn into lower Republican turnout next election?
Election observation is usually a party insider’s spectator sport. But this time, for better or worse (probably for better), ordinary citizens wanted a view inside the entire process. Our state needs to step up its game in providing end-to-end visibility into the registration and voting process. My hope is we will find a bipartisan way to enhance our reporting and process visibility.
There are many ways to capture video of the process, share information and contextualize it. I’ve made my career on such visualizations, and Nevada does just fine in visualizing the voting results themselves — but now we need to visualize the whole registration and voting process end-to-end. There is plenty of inspiration we can draw from, including from the likes of Tesla, UPS, Amazon, Google and Apple.
We should do all this because the standard for voter registration and election management has changed. Citizens' expectations have changed. The voting process is public and open, however, until this election, few people (including me) were interested in the nitty-gritty details of how a change of address creates a duplicate active voter entry, or the way Dominion voting machines are pre-audited and post-audited to ensure that what is entered on the tablet prints on the tape and matches the data key vote tally.
As people look closer, they will see there are plenty of things we can do to improve our voting system. I don’t agree with Binnall’s conclusions, but I do think it is a good idea to add address verification to our voter roll management. I also think we should ensure the data checks against Social Security and vital statistics are as complete as possible and done as quickly as possible. In sum, we should be doing everything we can to get the highest citizen participation possible, minimize errors, and restore confidence in the vote process.
What I see the Republican Party doing today, though, makes me shake my head in dismay. It is particularly ironic to see Rudoph Guiliani cast in his current role because when I interviewed Guiliani for my first book some years ago, he said, “The most I ever learned from an election is from the one I lost.” He was making the point that we have to learn from our losses in order to have a chance of coming back stronger. Toward that end, perhaps a few Republicans might consider the following analysis.
Why did Trump lose Washoe?
Of the just over 300,000 voters eligible to participate in the 2020 Washoe County election, 35.3 percent are registered Republicans, 35.1 percent are registered Democrats, and 23.3 percent are registered as nonpartisans. The remaining 4 percent are scattered across a range of other parties. With these dynamics, Washoe — the second largest population center in the state — is a classic battleground county.
President Trump lost the most ground in Washoe in 2020 of any county in Nevada. Washoe’s increased share of votes for Democratic presidential candidate may be explained by the following four reasons:
- Never Trumpers/Lincoln Project Republicans split their tickets.
Evidence: Local Republicans such as Heidi Gansert, Lisa Krasner and Mark Amodei (who won Washoe by more than 5,000 votes while Trump lost there by 11,000) all won re-election in-spite of Biden winning Washoe’s vote for President.
- COVID-19 and the president’s handling of the crisis put a damper on his support.
Evidence: Cases in Nevada — and Washoe — began to surge not too long after Trump’s visit to the adjoining Carson City and Douglas County areas (Minden, specifically). While Carson and Douglas pulled for Trump by a margin of 11.3 percentage points and 29.4 percentage points respectively, he actually lost 2.7 percentage points in each county compared to his numbers in 2016. That reduced share of votes is pretty similar to the 3.3 percentage points he lost in Washoe.
Bob Woodward’s tape of President Trump declaring in January that he knew the coronavirus was at least five times as deadly as the flu, and was airborne, combined with a mounting case and death toll and Trump’s choice to hold in-person rallies, may have played a role in voter choices in some of the more populated northern counties including Washoe.
- “No Party” voters increasingly leaned Democratic in 2020.
Evidence: Looking at the voter records of changes of political party, one can see that nonpartisan voters in Washoe were 42 percent more likely to switch to Democrat than to Repulican over the past four years. That number increased to 76 percent more in 2020. It is quite likely, then, that Trump lost the nonpartisan swing vote in Washoe.
To look at it another way (see Table 1 below), in 2016, of the 23,908 people who changed their political party, an equal number (26 percent) became either a Republian or a Democrat with 29 percent choosing Nonpartisan or Other. Republicans gained ground during the first year of Trump’s presidency (2017), but lost ground in every year since. In 2020, of the 21,319 voters who changed political party, 21 percent became Democrats while only 18 percent became Republicans.
Consider that 23.3 percent of the 303,000 registered Washoe voters are registered nonpartisan, and extrapolate the leanings of the nonpartisans as evidenced by party-switching behavior, and one can see that in 2016, Washoe was pretty evenly divided — Democrats won by just 1.3 percent — but by 2020, the nonpartisan voting bloc favored the Democrats by about 3 percentage points. This also helps explain the 3.3 percentage points that Democrats picked up in Washoe this election.
- Immigration from California has added to the Democrats’ voter rolls.
Twenty years ago, those born in California who later moved to Nevada were about twice as likely to register as Republicans than as Democrats. Over the past 20 years, that ratio has moved from 1.9 Republicans to every 1 Democrat — but moved to 1.19-to-1 in 2019 and only 1.04-to-1 in 2020. Migration from California is still tilted Republican, then, but much less so when compared to the past.
Evidence: Table 2 below shows the party data for those who voted in Washoe in the 2020 election, filtered for California-born by year of registration. (Note: A ratio of 1.00 is even Republican/Democrat. Anything above 1 is more Republican than Democrat.)
Table 2: 20-Year Trend of Those Born in California Voting in Washoe
What we find in Washoe County is that people who were born in Nevada are a little more likely to be registered Democrats. Without imigration from California, one could conclude, then, that Washoe would be solidly Democrat-leaning.
Those living in Washoe who were born in California represent about 80,000 of the county’s 303,000 voter entries, while those born in Nevada represent fewer than 65,000. Removing the blank entries, California-born voters are more than 30 percent of Washoe’s registered voter population versus 25 percent for those born in Nevada. The influx from those born in California makes Washoe County more red, but less so than in the past. The decline in the ratio of Republicans to Democrats made 2020 less likely to go in Trump’s direction.
President Trump didn’t lose Washoe by a lot — 11,368 was the final vote difference in favor of Biden — but he did lose it. I expect Washoe to remain a competitive battleground county in 2022 and 2024, except for the possible poison-in-the-well scenario added by Trump with his insistence the election was stolen. Considering recent polling data, as I asked near the top of this piece, might some registered Republicans simply opt out of voting next election as a result of disillusionment?
It seems to me that perpetuating the “It was stolen” conspiracy theory hurts the Republican Party, and that elections in Nevada may be a little less competitive next time around as a result.
Rex Briggs is an internationally recognized expert and published author in data analysis. He is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Marketing Evolution, Inc. He is also a member of Research World’s advisory board, and was Wired’s first director of research. Briggs holds a bachelor of science degree from California Polytechnic State University, where he now serves on their Business Analytics Advisory Board. He resides in Nevada and is a registered nonpartisan. He contributed to both Republican and Democratic candidates in the 2020 election cycle. On Twitter: @rexbriggs