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County begins tallying mail-in ballots as election day nears: What you need to know

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Washoe County Registrar of Voters Deanna Spikula spoke with reporters via video conference to provide an update on early voting and mail-in ballots. Early voting ends on Friday. In-person primary voting will take place Tuesday, June 9.

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“So far, we’ve had close to a 58,000-voter turnout for this election,” Spikula said. “The majority, of course, is mail-in ballots. We’ve received about 57,000 mail-in ballots, and a little over a thousand people have voted in person during early voting.”

The last two days of early voting are always the busiest, though, so the registrar’s office expects in-person turnout to increase. As yet, there’s no way of calculating how mail-in voting during the pandemic will affect voter turnout. In the last presidential election year, about 240,000 Nevadans cast ballots in the primary.

The registrar’s office began opening mail-in ballots and scanning them to start its tallying process on Wednesday, June 3.

“We have a large crew in the back who are performing the ballot opening process—and that includes making sure we’re complying with voter privacy as we open those ballots, so that we cannot determine which voters voted for which candidates on the ballots,” Spikula said.

Somewhere around 10,000 ballots had been opened as of Thursday morning, she added, and the registrar’s office staff will stay late or work over the weekend to make sure mail-in ballots are processed in time to release unofficial voting results on primary election day, June 9.

Ballot accuracy

There have, of course, been questions about the security of mail-in ballots. The Nevada Secretary of State has provided a fact sheet of accurate information about this.

Last week, the president stoked speculation of the potential for voter fraud, but Spikula explained the security process of mail-in voting in Nevada from the time ballots are mailed back until they’re received and processed. 

Ballots are bar-coded with voter ID numbers and ballot ID numbers. They’re unique to each voter. Returned ballots are stored in a secured location, which requires two keys to access. 

A total of 10 senior staff have keys—five with one of two necessary and five with the other. No one processing ballots is left alone. Duplicate ballots as a result of people moving or changing party affiliation are also caught during the verification process through a joint effort with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, though Spikula said these issues have been very rare.

Signature verification—which is decided by three people should a signature be questioned—is also an important way the registrar’s office ensures the validity of ballots. According to the registrar’s website, 1327 ballots have been flagged for signature verification reasons as of June 3.  Those whose ballots have signature-related issues are contacted to resolve them so their votes can be counted.

“Those are ones where we have a new option…a new app, where we send information to the voter with a pin number,” Spikula said. “That way they can cure that signature mismatch using this new app. It’s a really quick and fast way to get that ballot cured.”

Voters whose ballots were flagged for signature issues have up until June 16 to resolve them. Afterward, Spikula said, there is no recourse for voters whose votes were not counted. 

Information regarding issues with mail-in ballots is available on the registrar’s website and updated daily. The office reports how many ballots are returned to them by the United States Postal Service as undeliverable and the number of damaged ballots that can’t be read by a scanner—which, according to Spikula, must be recreated by a duplication board onto a ballot that can be scanned. 

So far, she said, only a handful of damaged ballots have come in, and 100 percent of them were able to be recreated and scanned.

As of Thursday, more than 27,000 ballots have been returned to the registrar’s office as undeliverable. When ballots are returned, the office attempts to contact voters, but out-of-date email and phone numbers hinder these efforts. 

Voters are advised to keep their information current through the registrar’s website.

If you haven’t received a mail-in ballot

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Those who haven’t received a ballot will need to either come to the county’s single polling station on election day and use a machine to cast their votes, or receive a paper ballot to fill out. As of June 2, the registrar’s office stopped mailing ballots to those who’d not yet received them.

Voters can register and vote in-person on election day but must have a Nevada driver’s license or ID to do so. 

On election day, there will be one location open for voting between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.—inside Building A at the Washoe County administrative complex on East Ninth Street.

“We expect a moderate turnout, but, so far, with what we’ve seen from early voting versus mail-in ballots, mail-in ballots are definitely leading as far as a preference for voting in this primary election,” Spikula said.

Washoe County is the only county in the state to decide to use voting machines for in-person voting. Heather Carmen, Assistant Registrar of Voters, said every machine will be sanitized between each voter, as will pens and spaces used by voters who prefer paper ballots.

A wait for official results

Although the registrar’s office plans to have every ballot it has received up to election day processed by the time it releases unofficial results on election night, Spikula said there’s no way of really knowing how many more ballots will have to be tallied thereafter or what percentage of votes will be represented by unofficial results.

“The one thing that is different for this election is the election night results reporting,” she said. “After all polls have closed across the state, we will start issuing updates on our website…and, of course, these are all unofficial results that we report.”

With the Nevada State Legislature’s passage of Assembly Bill 345 during the 2019 session, election results are unofficial until each county has certified results, pursuant to NRS 293.387.  

A ballot cast on or before election day might not be counted until after Election Day, including mail-in ballots that are postmarked on or before June 9 but not received by the county until after election day—as well as ballots cast by voters who register to vote at the polling place.

“We now will be accepting and processing ballots that were postmarked by election day and received in our office by the seventh day after the election,” Spikula said.

After unofficial election results from early voting, election-day voting and early in-person voting are released on election night, the registrar’s office will make daily updates as it processes any remaining ballots. After the June 19 canvas of the vote, the official, final results will be posted. 

According to Carmen, any voters who are concerned as to whether or not the registrar’s office has received their mail-in ballots can check by visiting the website

Jeri Chadwell
Jeri Chadwellhttp://thisisreno.com
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.

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