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Nevada revisits mail-in ballot debate after 2020 spotlight


By SAM METZ AP / Report for America

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Democrats who make up the majority in the Nevada Legislature want to make last year’s universal mail-in ballot policy permanent by extending temporary policies enacted last summer to protect people worried about contracting the coronavirus at in-person polling places.

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson presented a bill in a committee hearing on Thursday that would direct election officials to send all active voters mail-in ballots in each election, arguing that making voting more convenient and accessible strengthens democracy.

“This is not Costco. Voting is a right, not a privilege. We should make it as convenient and equitable for eligible Nevadans as possible,” the Las Vegas Democrat said.

The bill pulls directly from Assembly Bill 4, which lawmakers passed last summer in an emergency special session. It adds provisions that Frierson said address concerns and feedback from county election officials raised post-election.

Republican and Democrats presented arguments similar to last summer’s debate on Thursday, but pointed to the 2020 election cycle to bolster them. Democratic lawmakers said high turnout suggested mail-in ballots expanded access, while Republicans said the way 2020 eroded trust in elections should prompt lawmakers to consider limiting mail-in ballots and adopting policies that foster confidence in election security.

“I’ve had countless constituents that have reached out to me since the election expressing their distrust and uneasiness with the process of the 2020 election. In fact, many have said that they’re not going to vote again,” Assemblywoman Jill Dickman, R-Sparks, said.

Frierson said he believed concerns about election integrity were valid and noted that he incorporated proposals from Dickman and others to improve Nevada’s voter roll maintenance and signature verification procedures. If passed, the bill will require vote counters complete a forensic signature verification course, and direct the secretary of state to compare its list of registered voters to Nevada’s Registrar of Vital Statistics on a monthly basis to purge dead people from voter rolls.

Protesters gathered in downtown Reno Aug. 4, 2020, to rally against AB 4 and mail-in voting.
Image: Trevor Bexon / This Is Reno

Lawmakers did not vote on the proposal, but the overtures did not appear to sway Republicans on the committee, who asked why it was necessary to change current laws that allow for no-excuse absentee voting.
Nevada was one of four states that decided to mail all active voters ballots amid the pandemic and the decision provoked partisan rancor and contempt from former President Donald Trump in the months that followed.

Vote by-mail was the most popular form of voting, ahead of early in-person and Election Day voting. Total turnout was 0.6% higher than it was in 2016 and 3.5% lower than in 2012.

In the lead-up to the election, Republicans drew attention to voter roll maintenance and ballots sent to addresses where people no longer lived. Afterward, they challenged whether election officials could verify signatures on ballots to a sufficient extent.

Numerous lawsuits and reviews of complaints conducted by the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office have not yielded evidence of systemic election fraud or widespread manipulation of mail-in ballots.
Other states that moved to mail all active voters ballots amid the pandemic, including California, are also considering adopting the policy permanently.

Lawmakers in Republican-led state legislatures are considering reforming state election policies to address concerns about security and the distrust in current procedures that was fomented throughout the 2020 election cycle. In states ranging from Georgia to Arizona, those policies include tightening voter ID requirements and mandating more frequent purges to maintain accurate voter rolls.

Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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