Districts, counties and states from across the nation count votes after each election to see who will represent the citizenry. Free and fair elections are a cornerstone of American life, but recently concerns have arisen over the legitimacy of votes cast and whether results can be trusted.
Key questions have cropped up, including what determines if a vote is valid, and how do we know who should be voting in each election?
The answers are found in the voter rolls. Voter rolls are the official record of state residents eligible to vote and which district these individuals can cast ballots. The rolls include the address provided by each citizen when they register to vote; based on that information, districts and voter precincts are created.
Accurate voter rolls are essential to honest elections. They make it possible for election officials to detect potential fraud quickly and efficiently by providing a means to check voter eligibility.
In the more modern era of mail-in ballots, it serves an even more important function. In Nevada, we automatically send a mail-in ballot to every registered voter prior to election day. This means that accurately updated voter rolls are critical. With more than 1 million ballots being distributed each election cycle, it is imperative that ballots are sent to the right address.
Nevada is a booming state with as many as 50,000 people moving here each year. That means a lot of residents changing home addresses and election demographics fluctuating significantly.
Inaccurate voter rolls can result in ballots being sent to old addresses for those who have moved or died and potentially falling into the hands of bad actors. Federal law prohibits states from removing voters from the rolls for the reason of extended periods without voting, which hamstrings election officials from efficiently removing those who have moved or died.
During the 2020 primary, it was found that nearly one-sixth of mail-in ballots were sent to the wrong address. Even the Clark County Department of Elections cautioned against trusting the voter rolls saying that relying on the addresses on file would be, “a costly exercise of sending mail to addresses that were sure to bounce any parcel.”
Unfortunately, Nevada lacks any major initiatives for cleaning up its voter rolls. The last major correction of the voter rolls came in 2018 when 90,000 names were removed from the rolls. To put that in perspective, President Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election by a margin of just 33,000 votes. Considering that Nevada is a state of more than 2 million registered voters, more work needs to be done to better maintain the rolls.
Currently, Nevada operates with a “bottom up” voter roll system. This means that each county maintains its own list of voters and then transmits the results to the state. Nevada is one of just six states to utilize this type of system which is so outmoded that local election officials are often tasked with manually reading obituaries to catch any deaths which might require them to update the voter rolls.
In 2021, the legislature passed a bill requiring the Secretary of State to develop a centralized database of voter registration and have it functional before the 2024 election. Originally, the state had planned to use $6 million in federal grant money to pay for the transition, but doubts are currently being cast on the likelihood of that happening.
Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Mark Wlaschin recently informed lawmakers that a more realistic timeline might be January 2026. That original budget works out to roughly $3 per registered Nevada Voter and Wlaschin argues that the Secretary of State’s office wants to be able to “do it right.” He posits that Nevada needs a system that updates registration procedure and can stand up to cyberattacks
This concern is consistent with a 2021 report published by the Election Infrastructure Institute which estimates that Nevada would need at least $10.6 million to modernize our voter registration systems. That same report put the number needed for updating voting machines and cybersecurity at $19.6 million.
If the Battleborn State wants an accurate count of votes cast, the first step must be an accurate count of its voters. We need to advocate for systems that will ensure that our rolls are ones that can be trusted in every election, whether local or nationwide. Otherwise, we run the risk of delegitimizing our elections and endangering the freedoms we enjoy.