Nevadans still have option to vote by mail in fall despite likely return to traditional election

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Wade Vandervort

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in the primary election at the Paradise Recreation Center Tuesday, June 9, 2020.

Thu, Jul 23, 2020 (2 a.m.)

Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske reiterated this week that the state would conduct the November general election in the traditional in-person voting manner. But don't expect all Nevadans to flock to polling places to cast ballots on Nov. 3 or in the early voting period that precedes Election Day.

With the threat of coronavirus likely to continue into the fall, officials with both of Nevada's major political parties say they expect plenty of voters to request absentee ballots, which would allow them to mail their completed ballots to county election officials.

Meghin Delaney, the spokesperson for Gov. Steve Sisolak, said in a statement that it would “remain critical to have significant safeguards” in place in Nevada for the general election as the lingering effects of the coronavirus cannot be fully predicted.

“The discussion around voting shouldn't be whether we do all in-person with limited mail options or all-mail voting with limited in-person options,” Delaney said in a statement. “It is essential in a pandemic that we make both methods of voting equally available so the voters can participate in the election safely.”

The June 9 primary in Nevada was conducted almost entirely by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But in an interview with the Review-Journal, Cegavske, the state's top elections official, cited a lack of funding as one reason general election balloting in Nevada would not be conducted via the U.S. mail.

“We’ve said all along that the decision to conduct an all-mail election was only for the primary election; it was never for the general election,” Wayne Thorley, deputy secretary of state for elections, said Tuesday.

The cost to produce mail-in ballots and get them mailed, Thorley said, would likely be more than $2 million. There would be additional costs for leasing equipment necessary to process mail-in ballots, which the state does not own, he said.

“When you pay for postage prepaid return on all the envelopes, all the extra equipment that’s needed, and then the voter education that’s required to go along with that, it gets very expensive,” Thorley said.

Thorley said the secretary of state's office would run an information campaign on absentee ballots, sending out mailers to let people know of alternate voting options for November.

“There are very permissive absentee ballot rules in the state,” Thorley said. For example, there are no requirements for Nevadans to meet to qualify for an absentee ballot. They must, however, file a request for an absentee ballot with their county election office at least 14 days before the election. For the Nov. 3 election, that deadline is Oct. 20.

Thorley said the secretary of state’s office was working to make the process “even easier” by putting the absentee ballot request process completely online. While he said there isn’t a date by which that will definitely be finished, but that the office is “actively working” on it.

“We’re going to send out this postcard regardless of what the rates are and let people know,” he said. “It’s all about giving voters options and letting them decide to vote in the methods that they feel most comfortable voting in.”

Absentee ballot costs are incurred by each county, so the secretary of state’s office will not be on the hook for any costs related to absentee ballots.

William McCurdy, chairman of the Nevada State Democratic Party, said Democrats wanted Nevadans to have an ”expansive vote-by-mail option as well as a robust in-person voting system” to ensure as many people as possible could vote.

“This will ensure Nevada voters can participate safely — whether it be at home or in person. We must consider all Nevadans in these decisions and make sure every voice is heard in an election that will dictate the course of our country for generations,” McCurdy said in a statement.

Jessica Hanson, spokeswoman for the Nevada Republican Party, said it was the Republican Party's belief that voting could be done safely in person.

“We are for traditional voting,” Hanson said. “I think especially seeing what happened here in Clark County during the primary, with the long wait lines and the (social media reports of) ballots being strewn across the valley, we are definitely in favor of in-person, traditional voting.”

Further, she said, in a time when the state has had to make significant budget cuts, it wouldn’t make sense to spend more money on mail-in voting.

“When we’re already in an economic downfall, why are we going to spend millions of dollars on this extensive mail-in ballot system?” Hanson asked.

Another special legislative session is expected before the 2021 Legislature is convened in February. Among a range of special session topics up for discussion, Sisolak said he planned to have lawmakers address electoral issues, specifically “ensuring Nevadans can exercise their fundamental right to vote in a way that does not dangerously expose them to increased risk of COVID-19 infection.”

It’s not yet known when that session will be called, or what lawmakers would consider to address any sort of electoral reform.

The June primary was not without its own problems. For those wanting to vote in person, each Nevada county had one polling place open on primary day, except in Clark County, where there were three polling places available to voters. Polling places in Clark and Washoe counties had to stay open late into the night to accommodate the long lines of voters who gathered before a 7 p.m. deadline.

Full results did not come in until around a week after the primary election because of the mailing deadline.

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