Foreclosure Crisis Snarls Dems’ Efforts to Reach Nevada Voters

(Reuters) -

Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are flooding Nevada with volunteers ahead of this week’s key nominating contest, but they face a problem: The addresses, phone numbers and other personal data they need to reach many voters are out of date.

Nevada, which is more than a quarter Latino, was one of the states worst affected by the 2008 financial meltdown, with hundreds of thousands of families unable to pay their mortgages and forced to move in a crisis that by some estimates hit minorities twice as hard as whites.

With the foreclosed homes often switching hands multiple times – from homeowner to bank to investor and back to another homeowner in just a few years – keeping up with voters who at some point lived in those homes is difficult.

The Nevada Democratic caucus on Feb. 20 has emerged as an unusually important test of Sanders’ and Clinton’s political strength. Clinton is under pressure to keep her wide lead among Latinos, while Sanders must erode it to show he has a path to the nomination that does not rely mainly on the young white voters who make up the core of his support base.

“This ongoing (foreclosure) crisis makes reaching potential voters more difficult,” Sanders’ campaign said in a statement emailed to Reuters. The Clinton campaign said the voter lists supplied by the Democratic Party needed “significantly” more work to update, forcing them to spend valuable canvassing time building up their own private data.

Las Vegas, Nevada’s biggest city, has seen some of the country’s highest foreclosure rates since 2008, hitting No. 1 among more than 200 U.S. metro areas from 2009 to 2011, according to RealtyTrac, a provider of real estate data and analytics. Even now, the city and its surrounding area rank No. 17.

Data that might have been corrected in the 2012 general election has, in many cases, already fallen out of date again because the Nevada housing market has continued to see wave after wave of foreclosures, the campaigns said.

The Democratic Party’s voter file is based primarily on voter-registration records across the country. But the time between when a person moves and when their voter registration file gets updated can vary because different states and counties have different rules about how to handle those changes, which are not automatic.

“Not just our modeling and turnout operation but our recruitment operation is based on having very clean data,” said Jorge Neri, Clinton’s Nevada organizing director.

Underscoring the problem, about a fifth of the 1 million voters registered in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, are tagged as inactive, according to Joseph Gloria, the county’s registrar of voters – meaning their mail has been returned to the county elections office as undeliverable.

Latinos make up almost 32 percent of Las Vegas.

Personal information on voters forms the lifeblood of modern election campaigns. It can be used for just about every aspect of a ground operation – from building the so-called turf packets that volunteers scoop up to go knock on doors, to guiding the thousands of phone calls made by volunteers.

Campaign strategy is often based on the voter file, which can tell a campaign everything from where they need to turn up more supporters to what areas they can consider strongholds – or weak points.

Latinos make up about 27 percent of Nevada’s population and they lean heavily Democrat, meaning they are a prize voter bloc for Clinton and Sanders.

There hasn’t been enough polling in Nevada recently to show who is ahead among Latinos. But nationally Clinton has the advantage: Among Latinos who describe themselves as Democrats, 54 percent support Clinton and 37 percent back Sanders, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling from Oct. 1 to Feb. 12.

Latino Decisions, a polling and research firm, said Latinos are expected to form up to 20 percent of the voters in Nevada this year up from 8.4 percent in 2012, as tallied by Pew Research Center.