Diverse, union-powered Nevada county delivers again for Democrats

The Silver state has not gone Republican in a presidential election since 2004 and Clark county is the bedrock of Democrats’ success

A Joe Biden supporter and Donald Trump supporter talk outside the Clark county election department on 5 November 2020 in North Las Vegas, Nevada.




A Joe Biden supporter and Donald Trump supporter talk outside the Clark county election department on 5 November 2020 in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photograph: David Becker/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

For a brief moment last Friday, it appeared that Nevada could carry Joe Biden over the electoral college finish line.

America was three days into its long wait to learn who would be its next president and all eyes were on the officials counting outstanding ballots in Clark county. Major news outlets interviewed anxious voters waiting in line with their photo IDs to “cure” their ballots, a process which allows them to resolve issues with their voting papers.

In the end, it was Pennsylvania that on Saturday gave Biden the 270 electoral votes he needed to defeat Donald Trump. Decision desks called Nevada for Biden’s column soon after, and the Silver state limped out of the limelight as quickly as it had entered. But Nevada is still counting its votes, and as it works to finalize the tally, a picture is emerging of how its residents viewed this election and the challenges ahead.

According to 5 November figures, Nevadans cast 1.28m ballots this election, surpassing raw voter totals from 2016. Approximately 93% of those votes have been counted so far, with Biden leading Trump by 36,163 votes. Trump supporters, too, came out in strong numbers. Early voting, same-day registration and new vote-by-mail provisions led to improved voter participation in many rural counties. The president has already surpassed his 2016 support in the state.

Nevada has been slower than other states to count its votes. County election departments have been processing an influx of more than 600,000 mail-in-ballots, a record number due to a state assembly bill that expanded vote-by-mail during the pandemic. Those ballots continue to arrive, because state law allows counties to receive them until 10 November as long as they are postmarked on or by election day. The same law gives state registrars until 12 November to count them all. Add in a strict ballot verification process, as well as multiple lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign and the Nevada Republican party, and officials have had plenty of reasons to keep taking their time.

“Our priority here is to make sure we are accurate in what we are doing. We are not interested in moving as fast as we can,” the Clark county registrar, Joe Gloria, said during a press conference on Friday.

Just like in other states that are still counting, the Trump campaign has mounted legal challenges, without offering concrete evidence of its claims. For the past five days, Trump supporters have gathered outside the building where Clark county votes are being processed – some chanting, some praying, some armed – to “Stop the steal”. On Sunday afternoon, they were joined by Nevada’s former attorney general, Adam Laxalt, and Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union. In an afternoon press conference, Laxalt criticized the state’s newly implemented vote-by-mail system, stating it “simply did not have enough checks in it”.

But there is no evidence of voter irregularities, and that Nevada would go for Biden was expected by many who study Nevada politics. Nevada has not gone red in a general election since George W Bush won in 2004. In 2016, the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by 2.4%. Based on his current trajectory, Biden will probably surpass that winning margin.

For the past four presidential elections, the Democratic candidates’ success in Nevada has been rooted in the party’s ground game in the diverse, union-powered landscape of Clark county. This time around, the Biden campaign’s success was aided by one of the party’s most reliable allies, Culinary Union Local 226. Many of the union’s 60,000 members have been out of work since March. They organized anyway, but with pandemic precautions.

The union, said Culinary 226’s communications director, Bethany Khan, in a press release, “was the first organization in Nevada to conduct safe door-to-door canvassing”. Culinary 226 organizers wore PPE, practiced social distancing, and conducted virtual meetings throughout their organizing efforts.

“We found creative, deliberate, strategic ways to engage with voters,” said Yvanna Cancela, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign and Nevada state senator. “We knew it was going to look different than every other campaign, but the goal was always the same, which was to win.”

In many ways, the state also represents the enormous challenges the country faces after the fanfare of election season passes. Nevada claims the second-highest state unemployment rate, at 12.6%. On Saturday, health officials recorded Clark county’s largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases since July. The state government is facing unprecedented budget deficits as a result of decreases in tourism-driven tax revenue. Without a second stimulus package that includes support for state and local governments, the state’s ability to provide relief for residents will continue to be strapped.

The Trump campaign’s anti-lockdown message certainly spoke to many struggling Nevadans. Very few state economies have been as negatively affected by the pandemic, and the working class has borne the brunt of it. Still, Biden has maintained an edge. The majority of ballots that remain to be counted come from Clark county, the democratic stronghold that includes the city of Las Vegas, making it likely that Biden’s advantage will keep widening.