The delay in counting votes isn’t the only concerning thing about Nevada’s elections. Clark County officials accepted my signature on six mail-ballot return envelopes.
For the past two elections, Nevada sent mail ballots to all registered voters, unless they opted out. That means around 1.8 million ballots went out. Well more than 1 million won’t be returned. Previously, a voter could request an absentee ballot for any reason. That’s more secure because ballots went only to those wanting to vote by mail.
With that many ballots floating around, there are obvious security concerns — it’s much easier to get ahold of someone else’s ballot. Someone could vote for their spouse or child who doesn’t care about politics, but was automatically registered at the DMV. In apartment complexes, ballots of previous residents have ended up in the trash. A postal worker could pocket ballots. There’s not exactly an airtight chain of custody.
Election officials, however, claim there is no need to worry. They have asserted signature verification helps prevent someone from successfully casting a ballot that doesn’t belong to them.
As I did two years ago, I tested that theory this election. I had 11 people send me a picture of their ballot envelope. I then wrote their name in my handwriting. Each voter than copied my version of their signature onto their ballot return envelope. They sent me a picture to ensure it wasn’t their normal handwriting. This simulated signing someone else’s ballot.
It’s also legal because each voter signed his or her own ballot.
If signature verification worked, all 11 of those ballots should have been set aside for mismatched signatures. Instead, six were accepted. That’s a greater than 50 percent chance of being accepted. When I did this experiment in 2020 with nine voters, eight had their ballots accepted. That was an almost 90 percent acceptance rate.
These sample sizes are too small to say definitively that things have gotten better. Let’s hope they have. But either way, one thing is obvious: Signature verification isn’t the fail-safe security measure election officials claim it is.
That’s not surprising. Signatures aren’t a unique identifier. They morph over time. They change based on how quickly you write or what you’re writing on. Nevada’s law also makes it hard to reject a signature. The rejected signature must contain “multiple, significant and obvious” differences. Two officials have to decide it’s not a match. That wiggle room allows mismatched signatures to get through.
This is fixable. To verify absentee ballots, Georgia requires a unique identifier, such as the last four digits of a driver’s license number.
A brief word on what this isn’t. It’s not a defense of Donald Trump’s latest social media mumblings. Election security critiques should be narrowly tailored to follow the evidence, not sweeping generalizations that are easily disproven. It’s also not proof of voter fraud.
What this proves is that Nevada’s mail ballots remain vulnerable to fraud. Even small-scale fraud can shift races. Some of this year’s Assembly races look like they will be decided by dozens of votes.
The honor system is no substitute for election security.