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Political nonprofit prepares major ad campaign supporting automatic voter registration ballot question

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Election 2018State Government
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A nascent nonprofit linked to a national voting rights group is poised to spend huge sums on television advertising supporting an automatic voting rights ballot question ahead of the November election.

Nevadans for Secure Elections, a nonprofit organization registered with the Nevada secretary of state, placed more than $600,000 in television ad reservations at just one Nevada television station last week, running through the start of October through the general election in November.

It’s the first substantial advertising spending reported so far this election cycle on the initiative, which will appear as Question 5 on the ballot, and comes amid a nationwide push by liberal groups to implement the policy in additional states. Backers of the initiative estimate that more than 770,000 Nevadans are eligible to vote but are not currently registered, and that passage of the ballot measure would “help secure Democratic victories in Nevada for years to come” by registering more traditionally left-leaning voters, including students, people of color and the poor.

If approved, the initiative would require the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles shift from an opt-in to an opt-out system for voter registration, automatically registering them to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or other identity card unless the individual actively chooses not to be registered.

At least 14 states and District of Columbia have enacted some form of automatic voter registration, and the policy will be on the ballot in at least 10 states — including Nevada — in 2018.

But details about the new group backing the measure, Nevadans for Secure Elections, are less clear — it didn’t report raising or spending any funds prior to June 8, the last campaign finance filing deadline required by the state, and won’t be required to disclose any of its donors of spending until Oct. 16.

The group has set up a rudimentary social media presence, with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts set up in early August to promote the ballot measure.

On its registration form with the Nevada secretary of state, the nonprofit lists two officers: Ellen Kurz, the president of the national voting rights group iVote, and Rebecca Lambe, a nationally-recognized Democratic consultant and former campaign manager for Sen. Harry Reid. Lambe is also listed as a member of iVote’s advisory board, as is former Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller.

Kurz did not return a call seeking comment, and a spokesman for iVote did not return multiple emails seeking additional information about the advertising buy.

In a statement sent after this story was published, the group's campaign manager Chelsey Wininger said the group was a "broad coalition" of veterans, community groups and others supportive of modernizing the state's voting system.

"This initiative would add multiple layers of verification to the voter registration process and make it more efficient and convenient for military families and rural residents to register, all while giving voters the option to decline," she said in an emailed statement. "Automatic registration is already working – saving money and reducing errors in the voting rolls – in more than a dozen states across the country, which is why Nevadans overwhelmingly support this common sense change.”

A PAC supporting efforts to qualify the measure for the 2018 ballot, the Nevada Election Administration Committee, reported raising more than $742,000 from iVote between August and November 2016. iVote also pledged in January to spend at least $5 million in electing Democratic secretaries of state located in swing states in the 2018 election.

Supporters of the initiative collected more than 125,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot in 2016. Under Nevada law, it first went to the 2017 Legislature, where it was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval after passing on party lines through both legislative chambers.

If approved, the DMV has estimated that implementing the measure could cost anywhere between no money and $4.8 million, based on how agency is able to work with county voting registrars in implementing the new requirements.

Updated at 10:59 a.m. to include a quote from Nevadans for Secure Election's campaign manager.

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