LAS VEGAS (AP) — Control of the U.S. Senate could return to Nevada, where a slow vote count entered its final act Saturday in the nail-biting contest between Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt.
Saturday is the last day mail-in ballots can arrive and be counted under the state’s new election law. Election officials were scrambling to clear a backlog of tens of thousands of ballots to determine the winner of the race.
The Nevada race took on increased importance after Democratic Senator Mark Kelly was declared the winner of his re-election campaign in Arizona on Friday night, giving his party 49 seats in the chamber. Republicans also have 49.
If Cortez Masto wins, Democrats will retain control of the Senate given Vice President Kamala Harris’ decisive vote. If Laxalt wins, the Georgia Senate runoff next month will determine which party has the single-vote Senate advantage.
Cortez Masto had just a few hundred votes behind Laxalt, most of the remaining uncounted ballots in heavily Democratic Clark County, which includes Las Vegas. The Democrats were convinced that these ballots would put their candidate in the lead.
Laxalt said he expects to maintain his advantage and be declared the winner. But on Saturday, he acknowledged in a tweet that the math changed because Cortez Masto performed better than expected Republicans in Clark County polls counted over the past few days.
“It has reduced our window of victory,” he tweeted, acknowledging that the race comes down to Clark’s final votes.
“If it’s GOP speakers or slightly leaning on DEM, we can still win,” Laxalt tweeted. “If they continue to have a strong DEM trend, it will overtake us.”
If the race remains too close to announce after Saturday, a few thousand more ballots could be added to the totals early next week. Mail-in ballots with clerical errors can be “corrected” by voters until the end of the day on Monday, then added to the totals. And there are also a few thousand provisional ballots left, votes that election officials must double-check are legally counted by Tuesday before they can be counted.
“We know this is a serious count. There are people across the country waiting for these results,” Joe Gloria, the Clark County registrar, said at a press conference Saturday. “We know people need to see that it matters. We’re not going to delay it any longer.
Gloria said the remaining more than 22,000 ballots would be tallied by Saturday evening. There are also 7,100 “cured” ballots and 5,555 provisional ballots. Clark County represents three-quarters of Nevada’s population.
Gloria noted that it takes a few cycles to adjust ballot counting to the email system that Nevada transitioned to during the 2020 pandemic. He also noted that state law requires it to accept ballots until Saturday. “We couldn’t finish any sooner, even if we wanted to,” Gloria said.
In another key race, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak lost his re-election bid to his Republican challenger, Sheriff Joe Lombardo, on Friday night.
Nevada, a tightly divided swing state, is one of the most racially diverse in the nation, a working-class state whose residents have been hit particularly hard by inflation and other economic turmoil.
About three-quarters of Nevada voters said the country was heading in the wrong direction, and about 5 in 10 called the economy the most important problem facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of 2 100 state voters.
Voters viewed the economy negatively, with VoteCast finding nearly 8 in 10 saying economic conditions are not so good or bad. Only about 2 in 10 rated the economy as excellent or good. And about a third of voters said their families were financially behind.
But that hasn’t necessarily translated into anger at President Joe Biden or his party. About half saw inflation as the most important problem facing the United States, but they were also split on whether they thought the price hike was due to Biden’s policies or factors. independent of his will.
According to VoteCast, 7 out of 10 voters in Nevada wanted abortion to remain legal in all or most cases, and Cortez Masto and other Democrats have made right-wing preservation a centerpiece of their campaigns.
Republicans, however, hammered home the economic argument relentlessly, saying it was time for a change of direction. They also sought to capitalize on lingering frustrations over the pandemic shutdowns that devastated Las Vegas’ tourism-centric economy in 2020.
On Thursday morning, the Associated Press declared Republican Stavros Anthony the winner of the race for lieutenant governor, while Republican Andy Mathews was elected state comptroller.
The state’s only Republican congressman, Mark Amodei, easily won re-election in his mostly rural northern Nevada district. The three Democratic members from the Las Vegas area of the state were also re-elected.
Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the midterm issues and factors at play.