Nevada’s new election law makes voting easier – but be ready for longer lines and slower results, too
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Lawmakers this spring approved sweeping changes to how Nevada conducts elections, all with the laudable goal of making it easier for more people to participate and vote.
But those changes — including same-day voter registration — are going to have a downside. Voters will see longer lines when they go to the polls and may not know who won the closest races for a week or more after election day.
Carson City Clerk Recorder Aubrey Rowlatt said the impact will be especially unpopular in small counties like Carson City where voters are used to getting to a machine within minutes of arrival and which normally has final results in two hours or less after the polls close.
“There are going to be lines,” she said. “There are going to be late election results.”
Wayne Thorley, elections deputy to the Secretary of State, agreed.
“The biggest concern is the delay in election results and educating the public about that,” he said.
He said that becomes a big problem if the winner changes between election night and the final count.
“That can lead to accusations of fraud and other things,” he said.
For the first time in Nevada, ballots won’t all be counted election night.
“AB345 allows absentee ballots to be counted after election day so any ballot postmarked by election day but received up to seven days after the election will be counted,” he said.
Another change is that absentee ballots are no longer just for those 65 and older or people with disabilities. Anyone can ask for an absentee ballot.
Thorley said the second thing that will delay final results is same-day registration. Those people will be allowed to vote but, he said, “until we can verify their registration information, which will occur after the election, (their ballot) won’t be counted.”
Rowlatt said their ballots can’t be counted until the Secretary of State’s office confirms that, “the voter is not registered in multiple counties.”
“We have to upload the information to the state and the state has to vet all that information and get it back to us in time to do the canvass,” she said.
“We have to verify they didn’t go around county hopping and registering to vote,” said Thorley.
Under the old law, clerks had seven working days to prepare for the “canvass” that certifies the election results and makes them official. Since the weekend and Veterans Day weren’t counted, they really had nine days to do the job.
The new law gives 10 days but that’s calendar days including the weekend and Veterans Day.
“So they really only gave us one extra day,” he said.
And remember, some of those ballots can come in seven days after election night and still be counted. The clerks have to get those ballots to Thorley’s office after seven days and his office has to get them back to the clerks by the 10th day.
“That’s a big concern for the clerks,” he said.
It’s big for his office as well. Thorley said fortunately, the Legislature gave him about a half-million dollars to hire three IT professionals to put the process of verifying voter registrations together.
That process, he and Rowlatt said, must be fully electronic because there’s no way his small staff could ever get it done in a couple of days by hand.
“We can’t have some sort of manual process,” he said.
Those new positions will also help streamline the online registration process.
Carson City elections deputy Miguel Camacho said some people are going to be lining up election day to register, then moving over to the line for a voting machine. He Carson will have to have two lines instead of one — one for early voting and one for election day voting.
He and Rowlatt said that is going to require a lot more volunteers to manage the process.
She said that means early voting can’t just be in the limited hallway space at the courthouse in 2020. They will need to use the community center as well.
“We’re going to need workers who are highly trained on registering voters, not just voting,” she said. “Even with the best case scenario, we’re going to have a lot more for our election workers to do.”
Thorley said they tried to convince lawmakers to give them until the 2022 elections to implement the new law but he said they were told by Democratic leaders they wanted it in place by 2020 because of the importance of that election.
“We will make it work,” she said. “It’s just going to be painful so I would just ask for a lot of patience because it’s not going to be fast.”
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.