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Trump challenged Nevada election. Local candidates worry too.

Updated October 1, 2020 - 11:43 am

Non-Democrats running for Clark County Commission say they believe there is potential for fraud in the November election, revealing their uncertainty about voting integrity after changes were made to statewide procedures this summer by Nevada Democratic lawmakers.

Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony, a Republican candidate in District C, is encouraging people to avoid voting by mail if possible and to report to election officials any piles of mail ballots found on the ground or in a trash can.

In District B, Republican Kevin Williams is “strongly against” mail ballots, which he said in a text message were “dangerous,” and Warren Markowitz, an Independent American Party candidate, is skeptical about allowing someone unrelated to a voter to turn in the ballot on their behalf.

“It’s like handing a debit card to someone you don’t know,” Markowitz said this week.

He acknowledged he was less worried about voting fraud, which studies have shown is rare in the United States, after a reassuring meeting with county elections officials. But he remained leery about costs, delays in reporting results and technological issues he said could hamper the new process.

The state says it replaced all voting equipment prior to contests in 2018, maintaining some of the most modern in use in the country.

One month before the pivotal presidential election, local candidates confirmed they had joined a chorus of state and national Republicans, including President Donald Trump, in a contentious and partisan debate on the security and efficiency of the Democratic-led move to expand voting options in Nevada amid the pandemic.

The Democratic-controlled state Legislature approved Assembly Bill 4 in early August, authorizing sending mail ballots to all registered voters, although people can still choose to vote in person, and legalizing ballot collecting — pejoratively called “harvesting” — which allows someone to return a ballot on behalf of another person even if they are not related.

Party-line argument

Democrats vying for election to the county commission say the alarm is unfounded and that voters should be confident in the system.

Assemblyman William McCurdy II, the state Democratic Party chairman and a candidate in District D, accused Republicans of fear-mongering to sow doubts about the integrity of the election and to suppress participation. He pointed to how the state navigated a mostly all-mail ballot primary election in June with no reported issues — except long lines in polling places.

“So that negates the argument that you’re going to have voter fraud, that negates the argument that you’re going to have people voting that shouldn’t be voting,” he said in a late August interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Nevada is one of nine states that will automatically send mail ballots to all registered voters in the general election instead of a voter having to request one. It is a repeat process from the June primary contest — except then, ballots were mailed even to inactive voters. Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, has testified there were no complaints of fraud in that election.

“We don’t have any indications that say that (voters) should be concerned putting it in the mail,” county Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria told the commission in early September.

State bill expands voting access

Democrats said the bill, opposed by Cegavske and state Republican lawmakers, ensures voters can securely cast a ballot — either by mail or in person — while keeping them safe from the threat of the coronavirus amid an expected high voter turnout. Its passage spurred Trump to file a lawsuit, which a federal judge later dismissed, and the secretary of state’s office has publicly posted a “facts vs. myths” sheet to its website to dispel common concerns.

Safeguards ensure voters cannot cast a ballot both by mail and in person, and mail ballots must be returned in a signed authorized envelope, which is matched to the voter signature on file, the office said, adding that there were multiple checks in place regardless of the voting method. And discarded mail ballots cannot simply be picked up and used by anyone, it said.

It is also a felony to alter, destroy or discard a ballot collected to be turned in on someone else’s behalf.

An emergency rule, requested by Cegavske, that would have required anyone who gathers 10 or more ballots to disclose any political, corporate or advocacy group affiliations was rejected by Gov. Steve Sisolak, who said the request appeared to be politically motivated and that Cegavske did not prove it was warranted.

‘Potential for manipulation?’ But no evidence

Anthony, a retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department captain, said this week that his background in law enforcement made him “suspicious” about sending mail ballots to all registered voters.

“It’s like a piece of evidence that you would have in policing: Once it leaves your hands, who has access to it, how many people have access to it, can it be diverted some place? You kind of lose the chain of custody,” he said.

For that reason, the city councilman has uploaded a series of brief videos on his campaign website with a simple message for voters: Casting a ballot by mail is an option, not a mandate, and they should vote in person or drop off their mail ballot if possible. He said in an interview that there is less likelihood a vote will be diverted if it is given directly to an election official.

He said if it is safe for people to go to Costco to shop, it is safe to vote in person and that alleviating crowds was not a valid reason to send mail ballots to all registered voters who otherwise could have requested an absentee ballot to avoid waiting in line.

“There’s a lot of confusion. There’s a lot of potential for manipulation,” he said. “Whether that happens or not, I hope it doesn’t.”

Former Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, the Democrat competing against Anthony in District C, said this week that he believed Nevada has perhaps the most secure election system in the entire country, dating back to his two terms in office that ended in 2015.

To the extent there could be violations, Miller said he was sure that wrongdoing would be aggressively prosecuted and that voters should be equally confident in the process.

“I don’t put much weight into these concerns at this point, because unless we see some evidence of people trying to commit felonies, I think the system is very secure,” he said.

Anthony will wait and see

Democratic Commissioner Michael Naft, who is seeking for the first time to win election to his appointed seat in District A, said he was confident in the measures taken by the county elections department to protect voting integrity. He also said he was encouraging voters to cast a ballot in whichever way they feel most comfortable.

When asked if he believed that voters should have confidence in the election results based on the processes in place, Anthony deferred to how state and county election officials handle it.

“I guess we’ll find that out in November,” he said.

Mail ballots are expected to be mailed to Clark County voters starting Oct. 7, although earlier in some rural counties. Voters who wish to vote in person can do so from Oct. 17 to 30 at 35 early voting centers in the county, or at 125 voting centers on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Mail ballots can also be dropped off at early voting sites, Election Day voting centers or in the city clerk’s office of any valley city during normal business hours through Oct. 29. For everything you need to know about this year’s election, click here.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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