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What caused the problems with Nevada’s voter history website?

Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar apologized to voters Thursday morning for the confusion caused by discrepancies in Nevada’s voter history website over the weekend.

Numerous voters had checked their registration status on vote.nv.gov on Sunday and saw their mail ballot had been counted in the Feb. 6 presidential primary, even though they had not participated in it.

“No voter should ever look at the Secretary of State’s website and see inaccurate information,” Aguilar said in a statement. “This was a technical error that should not have happened, resulting from a patchwork, bottom-up voter registration system that has long needed to be replaced.”

The discrepancies impacted 14 of Nevada’s 17 counties, according to the secretary of state’s office, although it is unknown how many voters were impacted. The incident, which the secretary of state’s office said Monday night were caused by some counties not taking proper steps when uploading voter registrations, added fuel to the fire for many Republican voters who have long cast doubts on the security of Nevada’s elections.

Aguilar reiterated in the statement that the issue had nothing to do with the tabulation of votes or the results of the Feb. 6 primary.

“There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in our state, now or ever,” he said. “Voters should have absolute confidence in the entire election process.”

Aguilar said the state’s new Voter Registration and Elections Management System will help prevent the issues from repeating. The system, a top-down voter registration and election management tool, will be online before the June 2024 primary election.

“Nevada has a long history of secure, fair, and accessible elections and I am proud to continue that work,” Aguilar said.

How it happened

Chief Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Di Chiara and Deputy for Elections Mark Wlaschin prepared a memo to Aguilar that outlined what caused the issues and how they were fixed.

On Sunday, the state learned of potential discrepancies relating to the voter history of individuals who did not participate in the primary. Staff met that evening to discuss the possible root causes but determined a conclusion could not be made without input from the county clerks and registrars with impacted voters, according to the memo provided by the secretary of state’s office.

State and county staff met at 8 a.m. Monday and worked throughout the day on the issue, and they learned the technical issue that resulted in the inaccurate information on the website was a miscommunication in code, according to the memo.

The voter registration and election management systems are kept separate, the deputies said in the memo, so at no point in time were election results or voters’ personal information affected.

At no point was any county data inaccurate, they said.

The root cause was “simple and preventable in retrospect,” Di Chiara and Wlaschin wrote in the memo.

The state voter database was hard-coded to interpret certain voter history code in one way before and after Feb. 16, the 10th day after the primary, when the canvassing of the votes is due.

Before the 10th day after an election, counties marked any voters who had been sent a mail ballot with the code “MB,” which the system interprets to mean “mail ballot counted.” The ‘canvass’ code has been in place since Nevada’s universal mail ballot system started in 2020 and was based on feedback from the counties.

In previous elections, counties worked with the state and their vendors to take steps to ensure the code was only applied to appropriate individuals, but some of those steps did not happen for the primary, according to Di Chiara and Wlaschin.

Once counties learned the issue was with that “MB” code, they worked with their internal teams and election management vendors to identify a way to remove that code from voters who were sent a mail ballot but did not return it or vote by another method.

In Clark County, for instance, two post canvass code files the county sent to the state were in a format the state system could not read appropriately, and that resulted in inaccurate information being displayed on the state site. Once those formatting issues were identified, Clark County was able to make an adjustment and sent the updated file to the state system by 5 p.m. Monday.

By 8 p.m. Tuesday, the fixes were made for all impacted counties, according to the memo.

Moving to new system

The incident was a culmination of various issues that election administrators at the state and local levels have been trying to address for years, according to the memo.

“The increasingly politicized climate around elections, the number of demands placed on individual clerks and their staff, the turnover of election staff at every level, lack of adequate resourcing for local election offices, and the precarity of the bottom-up system currently in place could each lead to unfortunate outcomes on their own,” Di Chiara and Wlaschin wrote.

The current “bottom-up” voter registration systems require the state to put together 17 different files from different systems and combine them into a single statewide file, which the state then makes available to the public. Those kinds of systems are not the best practice, according to Di Chiara and Wlaschin, and fewer than six states have a bottom-up voter registration system.

Moving to the new top-down voter registration and election management system will take the potential for issues related to data conversion out of the process while allowing the state to check data and assist counties with troubleshooting, according to the memo.

Republican response

The Nevada Republican Party said in a statement Thursday that it was pleased to see the quick reaction from the secretary of state’s office to research and correct the error, and it appreciated the communication and candor from the state.

“We hope that going forward the SOS will be proactive in making sure these types of things do not occur again and will continue working transparently with the NVGOP and other interested stakeholders to ensure voter confidence and trust in Nevada elections,” the party said in a statement.

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

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