Aguilar: Vote counting can start earlier this election

Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, left, talks with Lt. Gov. Stavros Anthony during the opening of the 82nd session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Feb. 6, 2023.

Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, left, talks with Lt. Gov. Stavros Anthony during the opening of the 82nd session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Feb. 6, 2023.
Tom R. Smedes/AP

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RENO — Nevada election officials can start tabulating in-person Election Day votes as they come in, rather than waiting for polls to close in an effort to get results out quicker, Democratic Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar said Wednesday.

Aguilar cited state law in making the recommendation to county election officials that also include tabulating mail ballots as early voting is underway. The recommendations apply to both Nevada’s primary on June 11 and the November general election.

The changes could help quell anxiety over close races in a western swing state known for razor-thin margins. The nation watched Nevada closely in 2022 for the outcome of a U.S. Senate race that was decided by less than 8,000 votes, as the final mail ballots were counted after other battleground races were settled.

If county election officials adopt the recommendations, results will roll out throughout Election Day. Previously, in-person voting results weren’t released, and officials didn’t tabulate mail ballots until after polls closed.

“We will be able to release more data to the public more quickly with this new process,” Aguilar said during a news conference Wednesday.

Every voter in Nevada automatically receives a ballot by mail, unless they opt out, a pandemic-era change that was later codified in state law. The mail ballots can arrive at county election offices up to four days after Nov. 5, which is Election Day, but the ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day.

Aguilar said he consulted with election officials in the state’s two most populous counties — Washoe and Clark counties — over the past year and a half in crafting the recommendations.

“This is not about putting additional strain (on local election officials),” Aguilar said. “This is about creating efficiencies and allowing the staff and the clerks to be able to be more efficient in the work that they’re doing.”

Mail ballots take longer to count because of the numerous verification steps built into the process to guard against potential fraud. Those include matching ballots to the voter registration database and verifying signature or identification information.

Pressure to have results out quickly has only increased since the 2020 election, when former President Donald Trump sowed doubt about the election process by highlighting that ballots came in after Election Day and blasted those who showed him losing in a state after initially being ahead. The process is normal, as officials administer elections with rules and processes that vary across the country, and it simply takes time to count large amounts of ballots.

Most states allow local election officials to handle mail ballots before Election Day, a process that includes verifying the voter requested the ballot, confirming the ballot matches the one sent to the voter, and either matching a voter signature to one on file or matching voter ID information to records.

Some states even allow ballots to be scanned into a counting machine days in advance with a process designed to keep results secret. This allows election officials to run a report on Election Day that provides a tally of these votes quickly.

And when results are released on Election Day, they are unofficial. It takes days and sometimes weeks for election officials to count every ballot and to certify the results.

Already, the top election officials in Nevada’s Washoe and Clark counties outlined plans to more quickly process ballots.

Lorena Portillo in Clark County told state lawmakers earlier this month that the county now has six mail ballot readers, up from four in 2022 and two in 2020. The machines can tabulate 8,000 ballots per hour. The county also will use 26 machines that tabulate in-person ballots on Election Day from flash drives, up from 10 in 2022.

Portillo also said the county will introduce double shifts on Election Day for election workers.

In Washoe County, interim registrar of voters Cari-Ann Burgess told lawmakers that the county is looking to upgrade the mail balloting processing room to sort ballots quicker. She added that as the county grows so too will the capacity of the elections department.

Associated Press writer Christina A. Cassidy contributed reporting from Atlanta. Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.


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