Mail Balloting: From One-Off to Permanent in a Year

Kevin Dietrich

The impact of the Covid-19 lockdown continues to resonate throughout Nevada.

More than 10 percent of businesses in the state shuttered permanently; school closings resulted in students experiencing an unprecedented decline in subject proficiency; and it took nearly three years for leisure and hospitality employment to return to pre-pandemic levels.

The rules for Nevada elections also changed dramatically, and not for the better. Politicians, under the guise of temporary convenience, approved sweeping changes, including introducing universal mail-in balloting, discarding voting identification requirements and legalizing ballot harvesting.

Of everything that happened during the pandemic, it’s the election changes that could have the most lasting impact on Nevada and its residents.

The overhaul of the U.S. election system was a deliberate initiative from the beginning of the pandemic, according to a Texas nonprofit focused on analyzing the worldwide impact of the Covid lockdown.

“In March 2020, when the (federal) government’s official policy was still ‘two weeks to flatten the curve,’ the administrative state began instituting the infrastructure to hijack the November presidential election, more than 30 weeks beyond when the Covid response was supposed to end,” the Brownstone Institute wrote April 1.

States across the nation – including Nevada – no longer required a valid reason to vote absentee, rejection rates for absentee ballots dropped significantly and concerns surrounding potential problems ushered in by the changes were treated as conspiracy theories.

It’s true that widespread fraud through manipulation of mail-in ballots has so far been unproven. But, as Nevada Policy pointed out in its recently released paper on election integrity, titled Efficient, Timely and Reliable: A Framework for Election Law in Nevada, bad actors exist in practically all aspects of life, and it would be naïve to think they won’t move to take advantage of mail-in balloting.

“It is dangerous to assume that because abusive practice in mail voting has been rare up to now, it will remain rare forever,” author Walter Olson wrote in Efficient, Timely and Reliable.

From 2021 to 2023 more than 150 individuals nationwide were proven to have committed voting fraud, according to information compiled by The Heritage Foundation. These included incidents of fraudulent use of absentee ballots, duplicate voting, ineligible voting and altering the vote count.

Two of the above cases involved Nevada residents, including Donald “Kirk” Hartle, who was charged with two state felonies for voting twice in the 2020 general election, once under his own name and a second time via absentee ballot using his deceased wife’s name.

Cases elsewhere were more egregious:

  • Shakir Khan, a member of the Lodi, Calif., City Council, was sentenced to two years in prison earlier this year for an array of election law violations, including stashing more than 40 ballots at his home during the 2020 election;
  • In Connecticut, a Democrat organizer was convicted in 2022 of 14 counts of second-degree forgery and 14 counts of making false statements in absentee balloting. The conduct involved 31 fraudulent applications and 26 fraudulent ballots; and
  • In Michigan, Trenae Myesha Rainey pleaded guilty in 2022 to three counts of making a false statement on an absentee ballot application. During the 2020 general election, Rainey, an employee at an assisted living facility, completed roughly two dozen absentee voter applications, forging individual signatures of residents.

Of course, it doesn’t take many bad apples to give the impression that the entire barrel is bad. Given the increased risk of fraud found in mail-in voting, a question worth examining is why did Nevada abruptly change how residents vote in 2020?

As with so much else, it goes back to Covid.

During a weekend in August 2020, the Nevada Legislature convened in a special session and approved Assembly Bill 4 that, in cases of emergencies or disasters, enabled all active registered voters to receive a mail-in ballots. Other changes included extending the deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots until several days after an election and legalizing ballot harvesting – allowing someone other than the person voting to collect and submit ballots.

The bill would not only prevent Nevadans from experiencing long lines at polling locations, then-Gov. Steve Sisolak said in now-deleted social media post, but it “will protect their safety, safeguard their right to make their voices heard, and help reduce the spread of Covid-19.”

Less than nine months later, these changes were made permanent.

Opponents pointed out that requiring residents to request absentee ballots, as had been the law previously, strengthened safeguards that ensured registered voters were alive and living at the proper address.

Without these safeguards, it has been argued, rogue operators are more easily able to game the system by stealing mail-in ballots, voting more than once or under different names, and pressuring others to vote a certain way or by failing to return ballots when it suits their political interests.

Mail-in balloting brings its own specific problems. At best, there is a tradeoff between capacity and security. The more ballots that arrive by mail in a compressed period, the more likely errors are to occur. Mailing ballots to nearly all registered voters means a significant percentage of residents won’t receive them because they’ve moved, had their mail mislaid or even stolen.

Also, mail voting tends to generate a high rate of ballot rejection, sometimes from something as simple as voters forgetting to sign or date a ballot, mismarking it or sending it too late. Others make honest mistakes such as showing up to vote on Election Day having forgotten that they mailed in their ballot weeks earlier.

“All the above problems – which constitute the great majority of problems reported with mail voting – arise even if every participant is earnestly trying to follow the law,” Olson wrote in Efficient, Timely and Reliable.

But, he added, malefactors exist, too.

“Theft of mail is a real problem in parts of the country, and thieves who are after other contents of mail containers have been known to discard or trash the remainder of their haul, ballots and all,” Olson wrote.

One must also consider the danger of insider misconduct by rogue persons with access to mail flows, including postal service employees and individuals with private organizations.

An easy way to tamper with voting is by simply diverting ballots from neighborhoods or areas known to vote a certain way. Ballots coming from college campuses are likely to be weighted toward the left, while those coming from upper-end retirement communities are likely to be inclined toward the right, for example.

While proven voter fraud is relatively rare, Nevada’s recent changes have opened the door for the maliciously minded to try their hand at fraud.

In 2022, about three-quarters of the approximately 1.9 million Nevadans who received a ballot in the mail didn’t use it. In all, fewer than 530,000 mail-in ballots were returned, meaning somewhere around 1.4 million mail-in ballots went to waste.

Many of these ended up in the trash, on the ground outside community mailboxes or at incorrect addresses, where all had the potential to be used fraudulently.

Beyond fraud risk there is also a waste of tax dollars. In the 2020 election, it cost the state nearly $1.50 apiece for each mail ballot it sent out, according to the Nevada Independent. That means approximately $2 million in ballots went unused.

Finally, universal mail-in balloting has slowed the speed which Nevada is able to report results. It took as much as a week to announce some winners two years ago, for example.

All of the above do nothing to reinforce confidence in our elections. Given the increasingly polarized nature of American politics, we should be looking for ways to strengthen our system rather than making voting more complicated.

The pandemic scare is long over, and universal mail-in balloting – expensive, unnecessary and open to fraud – should be scrapped.

Kevin Dietrich

Kevin Dietrich

Director of Mainstream Media

Kevin Dietrich joined Nevada Policy in 2022 and currently serves as the Director of Mainstream Media.

He has more than 20 years of experience in communications, including serving as the director of communications and marketing for the South Carolina Bankers Association, working as a speechwriter for South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and assisting with internal communications for CVS Caremark.

Kevin graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in Journalism and a minor in History. A fifth-generation Californian, he spent a decade as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, New York, New Hampshire and South Carolina.