Nevada will be key battleground on voter ID

Four years ago, Sharron Angle gave to Democrats the greatest gift they could have asked for in the campaign, assuring through her nomination that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be re-elected.

Now, Angle is about to prove that she is the gift that keeps on giving. Or so some opponents of voter ID would hope as Nevada, inevitably, becomes a focal point of the national, partisan battle over voter suppression laws.

In the space of 24 hours, Angle announced her voter ID initiative and ex-Obama campaign grassroots guru Jeremy Bird declared that Nevada is one of four states his new group fighting such tactics will focus on.

This is about 2014, but more about 2016. This is a partisan conflagration, as Republicans grow increasingly fearful of increasing minority participation while Democrats want to expand access, preferably to their voters. And this is an issue that no one in elective office or on the ballot should be able to avoid, especially if Angle qualifies her petition and Republican Secretary of State hopeful Barbara Cegavske, the state senator, continues to emphasize “the integrity of elections in Nevada.”

Voter ID is an incendiary issue that, like most political conflicts, loses any nuance in the volcanic spewing of rhetoric. But suffice to say that an attempt to suppress the votes of those they don’t think will vote for them generally is what motivates those pushing these policies while the reverse is true of those opposing them: They want to make sure they can maximize turnout by those who are likely to vote for them and who are more easily dissuaded by voter ID policies.

Angle’s initiative comes after she vowed to fight the mythical epidemic of voter fraud in America after her disastrous loss to Reid, in which she allowed a political corpse to become reanimated by her figuratively self-inflicted Second Amendment remedies. She later mused about potential fraud, which her acolytes seized on to justify her decisive loss by 41,000 votes.

Angle’s initiative has the standard voter ID language and already has been embraced by some forces of the right in Nevada. She is not the best messenger – for anything! – and already has proposed repealing the state’s Obamacare exchange. The multitasking Angle needs 100,000 signatures by mid-June to qualify those initiatives for the November ballot. Whether she is using them as a springboard to another bid for something this cycle we will know in a month when filing opens.

But no matter. Angle has set down her marker, the GOP candidate for secretary of state, who oversees elections, surely will be on board and the divide will soon become clear.

(I asked the governor’s office where Brian Sandoval, who has embraced Cegavske, stands on the initiative and have yet to hear anything. UPDATE: The response from the governor's office was that he "has not read the petition." Not yet.)

In an interesting bit of coincidental timing, the morning after news broke of Angle’s latest, a voting rights campaign called iVote declared it was focusing on four secretary of state races this cycle: Colorado, Ohio, Iowa and….Nevada. With Republicans forming a Super PAC to target secretary of state races – you can readily see what the stakes are here – the Democrats are countering with a PAC overseen by Bird that will attempt to highlight issues and, yes, defeat candidates such as Cegavske.

Why Nevada? Because we matter.

“(Nevada is) a critical piece if anybody wants to become commander in chief,” Bird told me in an interview. “It’s a battleground and will continue to be a battleground. It has a big impact on national elections.”

Oh, do go on, sir.

Bird said Nevada also has an open seat – term-limited Ross Miller is running for attorney general – and that his team will eventually have a full-time operative here on the ground. They will use mail, TV and focus groups to deliver the anti-voter ID message.

“You will see a coordinated effort whereby we try to flip the script,” Bird said. “We will be on offense to expand access.”

Nevada is a fascinating battleground for this conflict because these issues have been raised before and because there has been such disparity in competence between the Democratic and Republican turnout machines. And, also, because of Miller’s political pratfall last year when he proposed what was seen as a  voter ID bill but was something much different than what Angle has proposed.

And don’t forget that during the 2013 session, issues of voters access were raised and Miller’s efforts to do so were repelled, with one vetoed by Sandoval. Republicans aren't worried as much about same-day registration and expanded voting periods encouraging fraud as much as they are that they will allow the Democratic machine to harness its natural advantages to get more voters to the polls. (I am not a fan of early voting, as I have often said, but this is about motivations.)

I am amused by the potential here for Angle’s efforts to have a boomerang effect. Democratic strategists here are rightly fretting about the lack of a Senate or White House race at the top of the ticket to motivate voters and a runaway governor’s contest for Sandoval. They have been mulling ballot initiatives of their own, such as one to increase the minimum wage, to counter the potential ennui.

But now Angle has given them an initiative – the Democrats already have sent out a “Republican war on voting” missive – to brandish to inform people they were afraid wouldn’t vote that the GOP doesn’t want them to vote. That ought to spark the base.

Although Democrats have to be worried about the visceral appeal of voter ID laws, my guess is when the news of Angle’s plan hit these Democratic folks on Wednesday, they couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Sharron Angle, Democratic Party savior? Again?

It could happen.