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Nevada Lawmakers Approve Vote-By-Mail For November General Election

An auditorium with lawmakers sitting at desks and chairs, facing toward the front of the room. A projector is set up toward the corner of the room.
David Calvert
The Nevada Independent
The Assembly chambers during the first day of the 32nd Special Session of the Nevada Legislature on Friday, July 31, in Carson City, Nev.

Voters in Nevada will likely have the option of, once again, voting by mail in this upcoming general election. That’s after lawmakers approved a measure requiring election officials to send a ballot to all active voters during times of emergency.

Passed strictly along party lines, the measure does a few things. Of course, it expands the state’s vote-by-mail system during times of crisis, like the current pandemic, but it also requires counties to open a specific number of in-person polling places. For example, Washoe County would have to open 15 polling places for early voting and 25 for election day.

Speaking in support of the bill on the floor of the Assembly, Democrat Howard Watts of Las Vegas told lawmakers this process will keep voters like his father safe.

“The virus is still raging,” Watts said. “We’ve got infections and hospitalizations at very high rates. I think about people like my dad, who normally always goes to vote in person, but is extremely high risk and is staying inside to stay safe. I don’t want him or countless other voters having to navigate a process that they’re unfamiliar with in order to request and receive a [general election] ballot.”

Voting by mail has become a divisive issue in recent months with President Donald Trump claiming the process will lead to increased voter fraud despite a lack of evidence. Even before lawmakers held the final vote on the bill, Trump took to Twitter early Sunday morning, threatening litigation against the state. During debate on the bill, many Republicans in the Assembly echoed those concerns. 

One particularly controversial provision of AB4 would allow some voters to request help from a third-party to turn in a ballot. Current state law only allows family members to do that. Republican lawmakers such as Assemblyman Glen Leavitt of Boulder City, however, have serious concerns.  

“If we allow any person to handle and deliver our ballots for us, what sort of corruption are we opening ourselves up to?” asked Leavitt. 

Democrats argue that enabling third-parties to turn in a ballot will allow voters, such as the elderly or those with physical disabilities, to participate in the election without risking their health during the pandemic. It would also ensure every voter will have the opportunity to cast a ballot in the safety of their own home.

Testifying on the bill, Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Wayne Thorley told lawmakers the extra protections are not needed for the upcoming general election. He said anyone who feels at risk can request an absentee ballot under the state’s existing laws

“There are safe alternatives to voting in person that already exist and are easily available to those that want to not vote in person,” Thorley said. “Automatically mailing a ballot to every registered voter is costly and not needed to ensure voter safety.”

Thorley had a point: it cost the state between $4 to 5 million to send a ballot to every active voter in the state during the primary in June. At the time, the state was able to use federal funds to offset the cost. Now, the state doesn’t have that money, and it’s unclear if the state can afford the expense while the economic crisis associated with the pandemic continues to hobble the state budget.

But for Democratic Senator Pat Spearman, an African American from Las Vegas, any barrier to voting is simply unacceptable.

“My grandparents, my parents, all of them, instilled in us [that] this is a right that we didn’t have all of the time, so never take it for granted,” Spearman said.

This is only the second time election officials have issued ballots to every active voter in the state. The first was earlier this year during the June primary. According to Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, no fraud was reported to her office after that election.

Visit our live blog for updates from the 32nd Special Session of the Nevada Legislature.

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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