Jim Hartman: Nevada rushes universal mail-in voting
On Aug. 3, Nevada’s Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed AB 4, requiring that official ballots be sent to all registered voters in the state before the November election. The stated reason: the coronavirus pandemic.
Nevada became the ninth state — in addition to D.C. — to adopt universal, unsolicited mail-in voting for the election.
AB 4 was the subject of a hastily called 32nd special session of the Nevada Legislature announced July 30. The 100-page AB 4 was introduced and passed the Assembly on July 31 on a straight party-line vote, 29-12.
Sent to the Senate, it passed Aug. 2 on a 13-8 vote, every Republican voting “no.”
Nevada’s top election official, Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, was excluded from discussions by Democratic legislative leaders. She saw a draft of the bill only one day before the vote in the Assembly. Cegavske was not involved in the bill’s writing.
Democrats contend AB 4 was needed because of persistent concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, including standing in voting lines.
Nevada Republicans are up in arms about the bill.
They contend voter rolls are notoriously inaccurate.
The error rate swings dramatically depending on where you are. People die, move, change addresses, leave the state.
In the June primary, the Clark County registrar of voters sent 1.3 million ballots to registered voters, both “active” and “inactive.” A report by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an election integrity group, found that 223,469 ballots mailed to Clark County voters were designated by the post office as “undeliverable.”
The “undeliverable” ballots accounted for 17 percent of all ballots mailed to registered voters. More than one-sixth of mail-in ballots went to outdated addresses.
In the primary, these “undeliverable” ballots flooded the streets. Blank, votable ballots were littered around trash cans and stuffed behind bulletin boards in Las Vegas apartment complexes.
“When you have a leadership that decides to change the election laws less than 100 days out from the election, obviously there’s an agenda,” Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald charges. “They had a 100-page bill that was drafted up by some D.C. lawyer. This is nothing that came out of Nevada.”
Nevada’s voter rolls aren’t maintained to the standard required of an all-mail in experience — like Oregon or Washington have. Washington state required vote by mail in 2011. It took five years to refine the process, according to their Secretary of State.
Republicans are distressed that AB 4 also expands who can collect and hand in ballots. The bill enables the abusive practice of “ballot harvesting,” in which workers for political groups collect and turn in large quantities of ballots to tip the election scales.
Veteran political journalist Fred Barnes observes that multiple ballots can be stuffed in a single envelope with only a signature required on the outside and none on the ballots inside.
AB 4 changes existing procedures on verifying ballot signatures. It allows the counting of votes received up to three days after the election where the postmark date can’t be determined.
The bill also gives Sisolak new powers to command the Secretary of State to adjust election procedures under his declared “state of emergency.”
In addition to universal mail-in ballots going to every registered voter, the legislation provides that Clark County have 35 polling places for in person “early voting,” with 15 in Washoe County and at least one in every other county.
On Election Day, the bill still requires at least 140 in person polling places be staffed throughout the state, including 100 in Clark County.
Cegavske insists no Nevada voting law needed to change. This state has permissive voting laws already in place, including in person “early voting.” Nevada will also be experimenting with controversial same-day voter registration through Nov. 3.
Those wary of voting in person can request and vote with an absentee ballot — no excuse or reason is required. State law even allows voters to be placed on the permanent absentee list — automatically mailed a ballot for each election. Casting an absentee vote is easy.
Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa. E-mail email@example.com.