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Creating new voter database system, state aims to ‘do it right,’ not cheaply

By ThisIsReno

by April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current

Nevada’s plan to implement a top-down voter registration system is not on track to meet its January 2024 deadline, a top elections official suggested Friday.

In 2021, state legislators passed a bill requiring the Secretary of State to establish and maintain a centralized database for voter registration information. Currently, voter information is collected and maintained at the county level — a bottom-up approach seen by election officials as outdated and less efficient. Legislators as they were hearing the bill set the expectation of the new system being in place by January 2024 — before the presidential general election.

But Mark Wlaschin told lawmakers on an interim committee focused on legislative operations and elections that a more realistic timeline might be January 2026. State administrators must go through a request for proposal process to select the vendor to create the new system, and they may have to request additional money from the 2023 Legislature. That would leave less than a year for full implementation.

“That is certainly the goal,” he said of making the 2024 deadline.

Wlaschin added that failure to meet the statutory deadline is “not something taken lightly” but that the SOS office wants to “do it right” rather than do it quickly and cheaply. A new voter database would be expected to be in place for “a few decades,” he said. It would also have to stand up to the growing threat of cyber-attacks.

The money for the centralized system is expected to come from federal grant money established by the Help America Vote Act following the 2020 election cycle. Nevada has approximately $6 million remaining of its cut, according to Wlaschin. It’s not clear yet what the price for the transition will be.

One report from the Election Infrastructure Institute — a group formed after the 2020 election by the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, the Center for Tech and Civic Life and local elections officials — estimated Nevada would need $10.6 million just to modernize its election systems.

When the project was pitched during the 2021 Legislative Session, it was noted that Nevada was one of only six states without a top-down voter system.

A centralized system is expected to help make maintaining voter rolls easier.

Wlaschin gave lawmakers a brief rundown on the state’s current process for maintaining voter rolls. The process, he said, is highly regulated and not something left to the whim of local elections officials.

“There’s a lot of discussion nowadays about what could or should happen,” said Wlaschin. “But the simple fact of the matter is that from the state and county election official point of view, there’s a very strict requirement for certain actions to happen or not happen that are defined in federal and state law.”

“Big Lie” proponents believe more should be done to update Nevada’s voter rolls. Some demonstrated outside a Washoe Board of County Commissioners meeting March 22, 2022 in Reno, Nev. Image: Eric Marks/This Is Reno

For Nevada that maintenance process includes daily updates using new data from county election offices and other public agencies, such as the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Corrections and the Office of Vital Statistics. There is also biannual maintenance, such as when elections offices distribute new voter identification cards and see which ones bounce back as outdated addresses. Federal law also mandates a 90-day “blackout” period before elections where certain maintenance cannot occur.

The state checks daily for duplicate registrations and will send a notice to any voter identified as being registered in two counties, which isn’t itself a crime and happens when someone moves from one county to another. Nevada also takes part in a national system for identifying moves between states. Both counties or states will be notified of the possible duplication.

Wlaschin also addressed one specific talking point favored by people who without evidence cast doubt on election integrity: the sending of mail ballots to deceased people.

According to a state official, in 2021 approximately 67% of death certificates were completed within 10 days and 94% were completed within 30 days — meaning they would have been sent to the SOS in that amount of time. Further time is sometimes needed by the Office of Vital Statistics if there are multiple amendments being made to a death certificate or if the surviving family hasn’t provided a social security number or other needed information.

The SOS and Vital Statistics offices are collaborating to determine how best to address that small percentage of deaths that occur but aren’t finalized in a timely manner. They also hope to build in additional redundancies.

Wlaschin said the SOS office reviewed state data and identified 400 people who had died in the year leading up to the 2020 presidential election and had a history of voting. For those 400 people, the SOS office compared their individual death date to the early voting period and the date their county began distributing mail ballots. (Because a ballot cast during early voting by someone who later died before Election Day wasn’t fraudulently cast.) That analysis identified approximately 50 people across the state who had died but might have received a mail ballot.

Notably, the Nevada Republican Party and “Big Lie” enthusiasts in 2020 amplified the claim of Clark County man Donald Kirk Hartle that a ballot had been cast in the name of his dead wife, Rosemarie. It was, in fact, the living Hartle who had cast his dead wife’s ballot. Hartle pleaded guilty to voting twice.

The Nevada Republican Party claimed more than 1,500 dead voters were recorded as casting a ballot by mail in Clark County during the 2020 election. The SOS office debunked that claim, saying in a review released last year that only 10 of the 1,506 records submitted by the party matched deceased individuals. Those 10 were flagged for additional review.

Like the Nevada Secretary of State and courts in Nevada, election officials and courts  in multiple other states have all determined there is no proof that widespread voter fraud occurred during the 2020 elections.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected] Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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