Why Can’t Nevada Get Its Election Act Together?

Kevin Dietrich

Another statewide election is over, and Nevada again found itself under scrutiny for the length of time it took Silver State officials to count ballots.

Why, it’s been asked, can’t we know winners by the end of election day? After all, with universal mail-in voting, Nevadans were able to begin returning completed ballots weeks ahead of election day.

Florida, where more than 7.7 million people voted, had results by the close of Nov. 8, but several key races in Nevada, where barely 1 million people cast ballots, took a week or more to be decided.

Such delays do not mean there was election malfeasance, but they do nothing to increase confidence in the state’s election process.

“If they counted money the way they’re counting ballots, those people would be in Lake Mead tied to a cinder block,” Las Vegas writer Walter Kirn said days after the election.

Nevadans didn’t learn who won the governor’s race or three of its four U.S. House seats until Nov. 11, and the U.S. Senate race wasn’t called until Nov. 15, a full week after election day.

One of the main causes of the lengthy delays are new voting laws put in place recently. This included the adoption of universal mail-in balloting.

A law passed last year requires mail ballots be sent to every registered voter in the state. And even though ballots were sent to all registered voters between Sept. 25 and Oct. 19, depending on the county, state law allows ballots to be received by election officials as many as four days after election day if they are postmarked by election day.

That resulted in batches of votes coming in across Nevada days after the election.

Washoe County poll workers were so behind that they couldn’t count the thousands of mail-in ballots that arrived on election day until days after the election, according to the New York Times.

And more than 5,500 provisional ballots, submitted by individuals who either registered on election day itself or had issues at polling places, weren’t counted until Nov. 15. Given how tight some races were, the delays caused much consternation and undermined overall trust in the system.

Nevada is one of eight states with universal mail voting, including neighbors California, Oregon and Utah.

Among universal ballot states, deadlines to receive votes vary from election day (Colorado, Hawaii and Vermont) to no deadline in Washington if votes are postmarked by election day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Florida, by comparison, state law requires early voting ballots, in most instances, to be completely counted on the day before election day.

A simple solution to speed the counting of Silver State votes would be to require, at a minimum, residents to return ballots by election day. Given that Nevadans have weeks to cast mail-in ballots, it doesn’t seem an unreasonable request.

And for those who can’t manage to get their ballots into the mail in time, they can always go the old-fashioned route and vote in person.

Kevin Dietrich

Kevin Dietrich

Kevin Dietrich joined Nevada Policy in 2022.

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.