How hard is it to vote in Nevada? Not very, at least by historical standards.
In the past year, the Nevada legislature codified a law that allows voters to cast ballots without providing identification. The state also now allows ballot harvesting, a former felony, which enables individuals to collect and turn in mail ballots on behalf of other voters.
Both changes, initially undertaken on a temporary basis in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, can undermine election integrity.
In the past, Nevadans voted in person unless they explicitly requested an absentee ballot, and photo identification was required to cast a ballot.
Today, active, registered voters no longer need to show identification to participate in elections.
Instead, registered voters sign an electronic polling book once inside the polling place. This enables the election board officer for each precinct, district or polling place, either a county clerk or registrar of voters, to compare signatures with those found in the election computer system.
Because Nevada recently implemented universal mail balloting, many individuals return ballots by mail or turn them in at a collection point.
“When you mail in your ballot or hand-carry it to be collected, the ballot’s bar code is scanned as soon as the clerk or registrar receives it, said Mark Wlaschin, Nevada’s deputy secretary of state for elections. “This updates the system in real time to show that the ballot has been cast. That way no one can cast their ballot at one polling place, then go around the corner and cast it at another.”
For ballots mailed back or returned to a collection point, voters must affix their signatures.
Signatures on these ballots are initially scanned electronically through with a system tied into the voter registration database.
“If there are any discrepancies, that ballot is immediately spit out and reviewed by individuals,” Wlaschin said.
It’s not unusual for a significant number of ballots to have to be reviewed individually, as voters’ signatures change with age, agility or simply the events of any given day.
The goal of enabling as many people as possible to vote is a positive one, and it appears the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office, which supervises state and local elections, has worked hard to make the state’s voting system as safe as possible.
Unfortunately, the universal mail-in balloting presents issues that are difficult to overcome. There are some 1.8 million active voters in Nevada, all of whom will receive mail-in ballots for this coming fall elections. These ballots arrive in a very narrow time frame, which means it’s all but impossible for election officials to accurately assess the signatures on every ballot submitted.
Within the polling places, there are many controls in place to ensure that all goes according to plan. But with many hundreds of thousands of votes coming in either through the mail or being dropped off by individuals collecting them from voters, control has been lost.
Chain of custody, the chronological documentation or paper trail that records the sequence of custody, control, transfer, analysis and disposition of materials, including physical material such as ballots, is broken when those ballots are cast from beyond the polling place.
It takes just one bad actor, someone stealing ballots or forging signatures, to damage the integrity of the process.
The question remains: is the risk of malfeasance worth the purported increase in accessibility?