The Nevada Independent

Your state. Your news. Your voice.

The Nevada Independent

Clark County audit concludes mail voting was secure, recommends voter education

Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
Election 2022Elections
Election staff examine mail-in ballots at the Clark County Election Center on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent).

During the 2022 general election, more than 4,900 Clark County mail ballots — an amount equal to less than 1 percent of ballots cast — arrived too late to be counted, a new county-led audit found.

The audit — a review of the county’s mail-in ballot processes conducted by the Clark County Audit Department and published last month — concluded that county election officials conducted mail voting during the 2022 general election in line with requirements under state law and best practices. That included using “appropriate controls related to the chain of custody, accountability, safeguarding and processing of mail ballots.”

But the county auditor also identified areas for improvement, including changes to the adjudication process for evaluating improper votes and continuing to educate voters about mail ballot procedures and key deadlines for mail voting.

The latter is a reference to the 4,903 mail ballots received by the county between Nov. 13-17 — four days after the Nov. 12 deadline set in state law for ballots to be received following the close of polls on Election Day. 

“Because these ballots are not able to be counted/processed under state law, it highlights the need to continue educational and outreach efforts to increase voter awareness around submission deadlines,” the county auditor wrote in the report.

The fewer than 5,000 late ballots would not have been enough to change results in any major statewide elections — Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo defeated former Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak by more than 15,000 votes, while Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) defeated Republican Adam Laxalt by about 8,000 votes. But the report indicates that thousands of voters who intended to participate in the election failed to submit their ballot in time to be counted. 

The audit report outlined more pressing issues with the adjudication process, which occurs when the vote-counting machines are unable to determine a voter’s selection in a given contest. This can involve overvotes (when a voter selects multiple candidates), corrections (when a voter attempts to correct their vote with a new choice) and marks made outside the designated area. During adjudication, bipartisan teams of two review the ballot to determine a voter’s intent based on the markings.

Despite the county’s use of proper controls across the mail voting process, the county auditor highlighted a potential issue — allowing an adjudication supervisor to independently review and adjudicate ballots outside of the bipartisan team setting. The report noted that supervisors work “out of their own terminal,” unlike the bipartisan teams which are together at a terminal.

The auditor reviewed a sample of the nearly 20,000 ballots that underwent adjudication, as well as a set of election logs that “identify actions taken on a ballot,” and “found no votes appeared to be inappropriately modified” by an adjudication supervisor.

But the auditor still deemed those conditions posed a risk in the adjudication process.

County management indicated in the report that during future elections in cases of adjudication involving a supervisor, that person will be required to bring in a manager of a different political party to review and document the process.

The audit also recommended that the election department maintain more detailed records of the adjudication process, including documenting adjudication team assignments “should there be a need to investigate errors discovered through post-election audits.”

A county spokesperson said in a statement that “the report confirmed that no inappropriate actions occurred in the processing of mail ballots,” adding that “some of the recommendations have already been implemented” and that others will be added moving forward.

The audit report follows an initial mail voting audit completed in July 2022 ahead of the 2022 general election. The first audit examined whether county election officials had implemented all provisions of AB321, a 2021 bill mandating that every registered voter is sent a mail ballot unless they’ve opted not to receive one.

The 2022 audit found that the county was in compliance with the requirements of the new mail-in voting law and had “developed ballot safeguarding and accountability processes that reflect industry best practices.”

Continuing voter education needed

The latest audit also highlighted opportunities to improve voters’ awareness of mail voting practices, including properly filling out a ballot and returning it on time.

“We believe these observations provide voters with opportunities to increase awareness and highlight the need for additional voter education related to the completion and submission of mail ballots,” the auditor wrote, noting that those observations “do not rise to the level of an audit finding, nor represent any deficiencies of the election department.”

More than 340,000 Clark County voters cast mail ballots during the 2022 general election, representing about half of all ballots cast in the county during the election.

The auditor pointed to a case of a ballot not being counted because it was postmarked Nov. 9, the day after Election Day, despite a receipt for the ballot issued by the postal service indicating a transaction date of Nov. 8. Mail ballots must be postmarked — an official postal marking indicating the date a piece of mail was sent — by Election Day in order to be counted. The auditor noted the “USPS postmarking is outside the scope of our audit.”

Ballots postmarked by Election Day can be counted as long as they are received by four days following Election Day, but that timeline and the volume of mail received after the close of polls “may create a false impression of untimely processing when in reality the department is processing the volume while following their procedures to ensure compliance with Nevada law,” the auditor wrote.

During the 2022 general election, the Clark County Election Department received more than 15,000 mail ballots on Election Day, more than 27,000 the day after, more than 36,000 two days after and nearly 2,000 across the final two days for mail ballots to be received, according to the audit report.

In recent elections, Nevada — and Clark County, in particular, where nearly three-fourths of the state’s voters reside — has been the subject of ridicule for reporting election results later than other states.

Since Nevada’s transition to widespread mail ballot elections, which first came in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a combination of ballots arriving after Election Day and close races separated by only a few thousand votes have led to delays in calling high-profile Nevada races.

“The Department generally does not process mail ballots on Election Day, as resources are focused on the vote centers and poll closing procedures. Once ballot processing starts back up, the Department has to work through any unprocessed ballots, plus the ballots received on Election Day, plus the ballots that come in post-Election Day,” the auditor wrote.

Nevada Republicans, including Lombardo, sought to change that process earlier this year by requiring mail ballots to be received by the close of polls on Election Day in order to be counted, but the proposal was blocked by Democratic lawmakers, who hold majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

The audit report recognized that those deadlines are out of the county’s control, but stated that the “conditions point to the need to continue mail ballot voting education and the challenges that come with processing large volumes of returned mail ballots.”

The county auditor also wrote in support of increasing voter education on marking ballots properly, highlighting a set of ballots that had undergone adjudication but may not have needed it “with better voter marksmanship/adherence to provided rules.”

Mail ballots typically come with instructions about how to properly fill in the bubbles and how to correct an errant choice. But smudges and stray marks can lead to votes not being counted, if they are registered as an overvote or improper vote.

“We believe there needs to be increased awareness on the importance of not having hesitation, stray marks or smudging on ballots/contest selections and properly correcting errors,” the auditor wrote.


Get more election coverage

Click to view our election page

Featured Videos

7455 Arroyo Crossing Pkwy Suite 220 Las Vegas, NV 89113
Privacy PolicyRSSContactNewslettersSupport our Work
The Nevada Independent is a project of: Nevada News Bureau, Inc. | Federal Tax ID 27-3192716