There’s no evidence of people voting illegally in the recent elections, but Nevada does have a problem with voter registration fraud and “it’s a lot bigger than people realize,” Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said this week.
The Republican elections chief said her office is trying to tighten up procedures governing the flood of people who work come to work voter registration drives in this swing state. Those changes are up for discussion in AB45.
“We had a lot of people coming who didn’t know our state. We had a lot of people who didn’t know our laws. People coming in that were not trained. I think good people were just hiring people to do the registration,” she said in a presentation to the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, adding that the issue was national and not just in Nevada.
In 2016, two cases came to light. A Pahrump woman named Tina Marie Parks was arrested on charges of intimidating voters and perjury for allegedly marking “Republican” or “nonpartisan” on forms when voters wanted to be registered as Democrats. And a Las Vegas man, Renaldo Johnson, was arrested for putting people’s names on a petition without their permission while he was helping the Green Party’s unsuccessful effort to qualify for a place on the Nevada ballot.
Cegavske declined to elaborate on the scope of the voter registration problem, saying she couldn’t discuss ongoing investigations. But she and her staff did offer other insights into how they work to maintain the integrity of elections. Here are some takeaways:
Online registration popular, but paper reigns supreme
Nevada’s had an online voter registration system since September 2010, and nearly 269,000 people have used the system since then. Nonpartisans use the system at a much higher rate than people registered with other parties.
The online voter registration system verifies a person’s identity by matching their personal information, including name, date of birth and driver’s license number, with information that’s already on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration.
People can register online for 10 days longer than they can register by paper. In those additional days this fall, the system handled 25,736 new and updated registrations.
Voter rolls cross-checked against other databases
State and federal laws require Nevada to frequently check its voter rolls for accuracy. While individual voter records are kept by the counties, their information is sent to the state each night and checked against two cross-state matching programs -- one called the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) and Interstate Crosscheck.
Those databases use information from the Social Security death index, the U.S. Postal Service’s change of address system and records from other states to ensure people aren’t registered in more than one place.
Cegavske’s office is looking to tap into a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) database called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE), which would help them determine if registrants are U.S. citizens.
She said her office recently inquired about the potential partnership but doesn’t yet know if it would cost money or whether other states are using the database.
Preventing unprofessional voter registration efforts
Cegavske’s office requested a bill, AB45, that would authorize her office to adopt by regulation qualifications for a person to assist in a voter registration drive or to circulate a petition. It also requires that people circulating a petition file their name with her office, as well as list any political action committees they’ve formed to advance their cause.
Preventing voter machine hacking
Cegavske’s deputy of elections, Wayne Thorley, defended the voting system against concerns of hacking. He pointed out that the voter registration system and the actual voting machines are two distinct systems.
“They’re two separate systems that never connect directly or touch directly, which is called an air gap,” he said. “Sometimes there are multiple gaps so that there’s no way for a virus or something in the voter registration system to get in the voting system.”
Voting machines are never connected to any network either remotely or physically so they can’t be remotely accessed, he said.
Elections officials guard against physical tampering through tamper-evident security seals on all the components, which are numbered, labeled and scanned when they’re returned to ensure nothing is amiss.
Votes are recorded both electronically on a hard drive and on a paper ballot produced by a printer on the side of the machine called a voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT). Elections officials take a random sampling of electronic and paper records to see if they match up.
“They’ve always matched up in all of our 10 years,” Thorley said.
Cegaske posted details about the security procedures on her website this summer.
Types of voter fraud
In light of vague pronouncements of voter fraud, Cegavske’s office published a list of types of fraud this summer to to add precision to the discussion. Here are the classifications they developed, which was also posted to her website:
- Double Voting – An individual casts more than one ballot in the same election.
- Ineligible Voter – The casting of a ballot by a person who is not eligible to voter. This can include non-citizens or felons who have not had their rights restored.
- Dead Voter – The name of a deceased person remains on the voter rolls and a living person fraudulently casts a ballot in that name.
- Voter Suppression – Any tactic aimed at lowering or suppressing the number of voters who might otherwise vote in an election.
- Voter Registration Fraud – Filling out and submitting a voter registration form for a fictional person; filling out a voter registration form with the name of a real person, but without that person's consent, and forging his or her signature on the form; changing information on a voter registration form once it has been completed; not turning in completed voter registration forms on time; or discarding completed voter registration forms due to party affiliation.
- Voter Impersonation – A person claims to be someone else when casting a vote, either in person or on an absentee ballot.
- Vote Buying – Agreements between voters and others to buy and sell votes, such as a candidate paying voters to vote for him or her, or a voter offering to sell him or her vote for money.
Fraud by Election Officials – Manipulation of ballots by officials administering the election, such as tossing out ballots, casting ballots in voters' names, or changing votes from one candidate to another.