In a country riddled with voter suppression brushfires and ballot box snafus, Nevada may end up among the fortunate few scandal-free states in the 2018 midterms.
Just writing those words makes me a little nervous. I realize there’s still time to prove me wrong.
We may yet find that clusters of voters suspiciously registered from the same address, and that generations of families decided to move back home to Nevada to cast their ballots. We may even see sneering white guys spouting legalese in English and Spanish and pacing with clipboards outside polling places. And, yes, we might even see whole poor neighborhoods papered with fliers informing voters that Election Day has been moved to Wednesday.
But the extra time early voting provides genuinely dedicated officials to ensure quality control helps reduce the likelihood that election deception and dirty tricks will deter voters from reaching the ballot box and making their vote count. And it doesn’t hurt to have lots of backup in the form of nonpartisan poll watchers.
“We’re definitely lucky in Nevada that, on the whole, our elections are run pretty smoothly,” ACLU of Nevada Legal Director Amy Rose says. She’s part of that nonpartisan and largely unpaid force of lawyers and volunteers who are working to ensure eligible voters aren’t harassed or hoodwinked at the polls. The rest of the nonprofit Election Protection coalition includes Common Cause, Silver State Voices, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.
She said authorities had no reason to expect any type of widespread bad faith on the part of an elected official. Other states have been plagued with highly partisan secretaries of state, but she said, “that’s just not something that we really experience here in Nevada, and starting from that position I think we’re already in a good place.”
Luck is nice to have, but let’s just say they’re not leaving anything to chance. The attorneys and volunteers will spend the day watching dozens of polling places.
Vigilance is key. And exposing the hacks and scoundrels who seek to deny the eligible their right to cast their ballot is essential in making sure the process improves.
Voter suppression and harassment on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation of North Dakota has not only embarrassed the state, but has backfired thanks to the tribe’s aggressive action to re-register voters and assist with identification. It didn’t hurt to have the nightly news cameras and a crew of other journalists shining a bright light on the issue.
The move of a polling place in a majority Hispanic section of Dodge City, Kan., outside the city limits has made national news much to the dismay of those who thought they could keep people from the polls. Vigilance and exposure win again.
At a Thursday news conference in Washington, D.C., Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn led a discussion with Election Protection officials in states that don’t enjoy Nevada’s luck.
In heavily red Texas, traditionally everything is big but voter turnout. That’s changed this year with record registration and more than 200,000 first-timers casting ballots during early voting, Common Cause Texas executive director Anthony Gutierrez says. And the Election Protection volunteers have been plentiful, too.
“Unfortunately, I think we’re going to need every bit of all those people because I think we’re seeing a number of issues in Texas,” Gutierrez says. “Voter registrations that have not been processed when people are heading to the polls, intimidation issues … probably the biggest one that a lot of you have probably heard of has to do with voting machines.”
Ah, the voting machines. In some parts of the state, they’re practically antiques. Some have been found to change voters’ selections in the highly competitive U.S. Senate race between incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic rising star Beto O’Rourke. (Insert arched eyebrows here.)
It turns out top Lone Star State officials are satisfied with the status quo.
Gutierrez laments, “these voting machines and this issue is really a product of a state government that has refused to invest in our election infrastructure in Texas. It’s not that surprising that we’re having these issues with the really antiquated machines when you realize that they were manufactured around the time that the first generation iPod [was manufactured]. And just think about the last time you’ve seen one of those was.”
The challenges never end in Florida, where the devastation wrought by hurricanes is the only competition with party dirty tricksters and retrograde lawmakers for first place in voter suppression and harassment. Voters are returning to storm-damaged libraries and making the trek to mega-vote centers to cast their ballots even in the hardest hit counties.
But the tricksters never sleep: Residents report receiving deceptive text and phone messages apparently from a coordinated organization.
In Georgia, it’s 1960 all over again as voter registration applications are disqualified for the slightest suspected error and, reports Common Cause Georgia executive director Sara Henderson, secretaries of state have consistently put up roadblocks against eligible voters. Closed polls, consolidated locations. But this time voters aren’t deterred.
“The great thing is in Georgia, we’re fighting back,” Henderson says.
North Carolina’s 2016 voter I.D. law was overturned, but Common Cause’s Reggie Weaver says that hasn’t stopped ballot suppressors from making voters think otherwise. The response has been to add volunteers and poll watchers who shine a light of informed scrutiny on the process.
With the Brennan Center for Justice reporting 14 states considering new voter restrictions and plenty of money being spent on tamping down the vote in minority communities, vigilance and sunlight will never go out of style.
Nevada may be lucky this time, but let’s leave the light on just the same.
John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith