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Clark, Washoe election officials hope new technology will speed up ballot processing pace

Clark County will be able to tabulate 48,000 mail ballots per hour, and Washoe County plans to use a new device in November to automatically verify signatures.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Election 2024ElectionsLocal Government
A woman looks at a sample ballot on the first day of primary voting in Las Vegas on Saturday, May 28, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Nevada’s two largest counties plan to use improved technology in this year’s elections that officials say will help process mail votes faster.

In a meeting last week of the Joint Interim Standing Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections, county and state elections officials provided lawmakers with how their 2024 operations will use additional technology to speed up the pace of mail ballot processing — changes that could help determine the winner of competitive races sooner after top elections in 2022 and 2020 were not called until days after Election Day.

In the primary and general elections, Clark County will use six mail ballot readers that can each tabulate 8,000 ballots per hour, an increase from two machines the county used in 2020 and four used in 2022, county registrar Lorena Portillo told lawmakers last week. The county will also use about 26 machines to tabulate in-person Election Day ballots from flash drives, up from the 10 machines used in 2022.

The county is also implementing double shifts for election workers on Election Day, which Portillo said would speed up the vote-collection process.

Washoe County is planning to unveil a new ballot sorting machine in between the primary and general elections. This machine does not count ballots, but rather sorts envelopes by precinct for all votes not cast in person on Election Day (mail votes, early votes and ballots left at drop boxes). The machine also scans the ballots’ barcodes and uploads the ballot status to the county website, allowing voters to see whether their ballot has been received, interim Registrar Cari-Ann Burgess told The Indy.

The new machine will also be able to automatically check if a voter’s signature matches the one on file, a process that is currently done manually. If the machine detects a signature that does not match, county employees will manually check to see if there is indeed a discrepancy, a county spokesperson told The Indy. The county will also allow members of the public to test the signature verification feature before voting starts, and county staff will manually audit the system throughout the election.

The existing machine, which Washoe County bought used in 2020 and is more than 15 years old, is prone to shutting down and sorts about 300 ballots hourly, while the new machine will be able to sort about 500 ballots each hour, Burgess said. She added that it typically takes about 48 hours to process any ballot after it is received, but the county is aiming to cut that down to between 24 and 36 hours.

After moving to all-mail voting during the pandemic on a temporary basis, the state Legislature permanently enacted universal mail voting in 2021, while also allowing voters to opt out of receiving a mail ballot.

In 2020, President Joe Biden was not declared the winner in Nevada until four days after Election Day because of mail ballots that trickled in after polls closed. In the 2022 U.S. Senate race, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) also did not ultimately have her race called over former Attorney General Adam Laxalt until four days after Election Day. 

In 2022, nearly 40,000 Clark County mail ballots and around 5,700 Washoe County mail ballots were received after Election Day — an overwhelming majority of which were received the day after Election Day — according to data from the secretary of state’s office. Cortez Masto beat Laxalt by fewer than 8,000 votes in 2022.

The technology upgrades come as elections officials expect voters to continue to prefer voting by mail.

In the February presidential preference primary, more than 74 percent of Clark County votes were by mail, according to a county presentation last week. In the 2022 primary, more than 55 percent of Clark County votes were by mail, and all primary votes were by mail in 2020 because of the pandemic. 

Portillo said turnout trends in this year’s elections will play a key role in determining how the county allocates its resources going forward, adding that it may downsize in-person election staff if mail ballots continue to be the dominant voting method.

Washoe County officials expect at least half of the ballots cast this year to be by mail, Burgess told legislators. That would be a significant increase from 2022, when about one-third of county votes were by mail. 

Nevada law allows any mail ballot postmarked by Election Day to be counted as long as it is received within four days after Election Day. Republicans, especially former President Donald Trump, falsely claimed mail ballots in 2020 were rife with fraud, but the GOP is now encouraging voting by mail, even as Trump continues to malign the process.

The Trump campaign filed a lawsuit earlier this month alleging that the post-Election Day processing time for mail ballots violates federal law, which the Biden campaign asked to be dismissed on Monday.

Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar also told legislators during the meeting last week that the state is partnering with a veterans voting group and reaching out to high schoolers to increase the number of poll workers after an employee shortage prompted Douglas County to tap into its own employees to work at the polls for the presidential primary.

“We need to give election officials every chance to succeed. That means more resources to do their job,” Aguilar said. “As we look ahead to legislative session, more consistent funding and resources will be crucial.


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