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Array of bills could change Nevada’s election process

Updated January 27, 2023 - 10:52 am

In the last few years Nevada’s election process has been in the national spotlight for both good and bad reasons, from making the voting process more accessible to taking a long time to get election results.

Nevada legislators and the secretary of state’s office have introduced an array of bills that aim to make changes in the process.

Republican lawmakers are introducing bills that will move back the deadline to mail in a ballot, that will require an ID to vote and increase penalties for committing voter fraud. Democrats are introducing bills that will increase penalties for submitting fake electoral certificates and select presidents based on the popular vote, not the Electoral College.

The secretary of state’s office also has eight bill draft requests, some which address elections. Six are requests from now-former Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and two are from newly elected Democratic Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar.

Protecting election workers

Aguilar’s legislation that he has pushed since he was running for secretary of state would strengthen protections for election workers and make it a felony to threaten, intimidate or harass election workers. The legislation is modeled off of policies from Colorado and North Carolina, Aguilar said.

Aguilar said election departments have vacancies at both the state and local levels, and he thinks one reason is people are concerned about taking those jobs because of threats that have occurred during the last few election cycles.

“It’s really making sure that we have quality staff to be able to run elections,” Aguilar said. “Elections only work if you have the human component. If we don’t have the human component, our elections aren’t going to run the way we want them to run or the way we expect them to run.”

“So we have to create work environments where people feel safe, they feel excited about going to work, they know that somebody has their back, and is gonna protect them,” he said.

Aguilar is also pushing for his predecessor’s bills to go forward as well.

“I don’t want to come in and usurp anything that was already in the works, especially when it goes to make us stronger and better,” Aguilar said. “You know, Barbara had eight years of experience, so I’m relying on that experience to make sure we’re going in the right direction.”

Assembly Bill 59, for instance, would allow state election workers to request that certain personal information be kept confidential and allows them to request that the Department of Motor Vehicles display an alternate address on their driver’s license, commercial driver’s license or state identification card.

As the law exists now, local election workers have the privacy protection in place, but this legislation would extend that protection to state election workers, Aguilar said. It would also extend to the spouse, domestic partner or minor child to make similar requests.

Election results even later?

Senate Bill 60, sponsored by the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections, changes the date on which the mail ballot central counting board must finish counting of mail ballots from the seventh day following the election to on or before the ninth day after the election.

It also requires a county or city clerk or an election official to notify the secretary of state of any cyber-incident or attempted cyber incident on the security of an information system.

A section of the bill repeals provisions that prohibit a counting board from starting to count the votes until all ballots are accounted for, and provisions that provide for a recount at a hearing of any contest.

Senate Bill 54 requires the secretary of state to publish an elections procedure manual and requires county and city clerks to comply with the manual. It also requires the secretary of state to provide training to election officials on election procedures.

The secretary of state’s procedure manual must be submitted to the attorney general’s office for approval. Election workers are required to attend the training courses, which will take place in the second week of January in each odd-numbered year.

Deadline for returning mail ballots?

State Sen. Robin Titus, R-Wellington, is introducing legislation that changes the deadline for returning mail ballots on the last day of early voting, rather than on Election Day.

“I’m not trying to change mail ballots or take away anybody’s right to vote,” Titus said.

Current law allows officials to count ballots that are postmarked on Election Day, and received up to four days afterward. “We all know how long that took,” Titus said. “Nobody wants to see it take that long.”

Under Titus’ bill, voters can mail their ballots in on the last day of early voting, or drop them off at official drop boxes through Election Day.

“I want to make sure that our voters have a chance to vote and restore some confidence in the process,” Titus said. “It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, it took way too long to count these votes.”

The Democratic-majority Legislature, however, is not likely to go for the change, as it has largely been opposed to any legislation that could be seen as restricting access to voting. But Democrats may have an interest in speedier results, especially with the presidential preference primary election in February 2024.

Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo also expressed interest in changing the deadline for mail ballots in his State of the State Address, arguing that all mail-in ballots should be received by the time polls close on Election Day.

“This puts Nevada back in line with national norms and ensures our election reporting does not drag on for days when the balance of the nation has moved on,” Lombardo said.

Titus is also sponsoring Senate Bill 75, which would make the registrar of voters in larger counties and elected position, rather than an appointed one.

Voter ID

Lombardo also wants to see a requirement to show ID to vote.

“We require people to have a valid form of identification to get on a plane, to operate a motor vehicle or to purchase alcohol or cigarettes, but not to cast a vote in an election,” Lombardo said during his State of the State. “That is illogical.”

Assemblyman Gregory Hafen II, R-Pahrump, is introducing legislation that will require an ID to vote as well as increase penalties for committing voter fraud. Hafen’s bill mirrors the requirements for same-day voter registration, including drivers licenses or tribal identification.

“I want to have the same process that our clerks and election workers are already used to so we’re not re-inventing the wheel,” Hafen said.

If someone claims to have a financial hardship and cannot afford an ID, the Department of Motor Vehicles would be required to provide them with a free ID.

“We don’t want to marginalize anyone,” Hafen said. “We want everybody to be able to vote.”

But the Democratic-majority Legislature is unlikely to go for voter ID, either.

Aguilar said he thinks voter ID is a “solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” and that populations of voters would be negatively affected by such a law, such as members of the AARP, he said.

People arguing in favor of voter ID often talk about the need for an ID to get on an airplane or to buy alcohol, Aguilar said.

“Those two issues are not fundamental rights that are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution,” Aguilar said. “And when you talk about constitutional rights, you better make sure that any issue you’re raising is not hindering somebody’s constitutional right.”

“We’re a much different state than other states out there,” he said, “and so we have to be cognizant that we are not a simple comparison to another state or another population of citizens. We have a large Native community. We have a large elderly community in the rural areas. And so whatever issues are raised when it comes to voter ID, we have to make sure we understand the unintended consequences.”

Hafen said the other element of his legislation that increases penalties for people who commit voter fraud has received some Democratic support so far.

“If someone votes on someone else’s mail ballot, that needs to be a felony and should not be pled down to a misdemeanor,” Hafen said.

His legislation would put voter fraud on par with check fraud and credit card fraud, which receive higher penalties, Hafen said.

Punishing fake electors

State Sen. Skip Daly, D-Sparks, is introducing legislation to make submitting false electoral certificates “more illegal than it already is,” Daly said.

There is no specific law on fake certificates, besides a law on falsifying documents. Daly’s legislation would make submitting or conspiring to submit fake elector documents a felony.

If the person is found guilty, they also would not be able to run for or be appointed to a state office in the future, Daly said.

“I hope we never will have to use this particular piece of legislation, but we have to have it in place because who would have thought it would have happened in the first place?” Daly said.

In the wake of the 2020 election, Republican electors met in Carson City and held a ceremony in front of the legislative building in which they signed certificates claiming former President Donald Trump won the election, and sent those documents to Washington as part of a scheme to keep Trump in power. The plan has been the subject of investigations by the Justice Department and the Jan. 6 committee in Congress.

Popular vote only

Assemblyman Howard Watts III, D-Las Vegas, is reintroducing legislation that failed in the 2019 session that would have Nevada join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would allow the president of the U.S. to be elected by popular vote in Nevada.

States will be able to determine how their electoral votes are allocated. The states that are part of the compact would base their electoral votes on whichever presidential candidate won the popular vote, Watts said.

The National Popular Vote bill has been enacted by 16 states already that make up a total of 195 Electoral College votes, according to nationalpopularvote.com. Once 270 electoral votes sign onto the compact, the legislation takes effect.

The bill is designed to avoid a situation in which a candidate wins the popular vote but loses the election because he or she failed to win a majority of Electoral College votes, which happened five times in U.S. history, including in 2000 and 2016.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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