Indy Q&A: How do I participate in Nevada’s mostly mail primary election?
Nevada is trying to conduct its June 9 primary election almost entirely by mail as a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, with limited options to vote in person. Wayne Thorley, deputy secretary of state for elections, took questions from the public in a Facebook Live town hall on May 11.
Thorley oversees the elections division and is in charge of ensuring election laws are followed.
Below are his responses from the question-and-answer session, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Why is this primary election being conducted by mail-in voting?
The secretary of state, in a partnership with the 17 county election officials, made the decision back in late March to conduct this election by all mail as a response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic at the time. The secretary of state's office and the counties work together cooperatively in all matters related to elections.
It was determined because of the unknown duration of the ongoing pandemic and the effect it was having on our ability to recruit all workers and identify polling locations that it would be best for everyone, it would be the most safe and secure method, to conduct this election by mail.
Many of our poll workers belong to groups that are at highest risk for the COVID 19 virus. So it's just best for this election that if everyone could mail in their ballots; that's the best way to keep yourself safe and to keep your neighbors safe.
We know that the mail in process is new for a lot of voters. Personally, I've never voted by mail before.
How does mail-in voting work?
It's a simple five-step process. First you receive your ballot and open it. Read the instructions. All ballots will come with instructions.
Review and mark your ballot. Then, insert your ballot into the privacy sleeve, and then put it back into the ballot return envelope. Seal it, sign it, and then send it back to your county election official.
Every ballot comes with a postage prepaid ballot return envelope, and the ballot return envelope was also pre-addressed to your county election official.
So it really is as simple as marking your ballot. Putting it in your ballot return envelope, signing your ballot return envelope, and then sending it back to your county election official at no cost to you.
That's important to remember -- to sign your ballot return envelope. There's a clearly identified spot on your ballot return envelope where you'll sign the ballot.
We use that signature, once we get the ballot back, to match against the signature we have on file for you, to make sure to verify your identity and that it is actually you who voted that ballot. Once we get the ballots in, all ballots are scanned by a machine. We have scanners in all the counties that will scan your ballots.
If the machine can't read your ballot, it kicks it out over to a bipartisan review team of what we call adjudicators. And they review your ballot to determine the voter’s intent.
What do you do if you make a mistake on your ballot or you fill it in incorrectly?
If you make a mistake and you vote for the incorrect candidate, you can simply cross out that selection and then clearly mark the candidate that you do intend to vote for. Do not use a whiteout or correction fluid or tape on your ballot. Just simply cross out the errant mark and clearly mark the candidate.
If you spill something on it or rip it, or you just simply misplace it, we can send you a replacement ballot. If you need a replacement ballot, you can contact your county election official and they will send you a replacement ballot.
You'll need to do that by June 2, however. If you need a ballot after June 2, you'll need to go vote in person at one of our in-person polling locations.
What does it mean to be an active registered voter?
For this election, we'll be mailing ballots out to all active registered voters. In the case of Clark County, we're also sending ballots out to inactive registered voters.
What's the difference between an active and inactive registered voter?
An active registered voter is someone who has a verifiable mailing address. An inactive registered voter is somebody who we're fairly confident has moved because we've either had election mail that was sent to that voter that was returned, or they did not respond to a mailer asking for a response.
Inactive voters are still registered voters and can vote in the election. You can easily check your registration status online on the secretary of state's website for or for voter registration, which is registertovoteNV.gov and you can check your voter registration status. If you do need to make updates to your information such as your address, if you've moved recently or you'd like to change your party affiliation, you can do all of that online. Again, the website is www.registertovotenv.gov. If you do make changes, you have until midnight on May 21 to make changes to your ballot or to your voter registration and still receive a ballot in the mail.
If you make changes to your voter registration after May 21, you can still do the changes, but you'll have to vote in person.
How are election officials working to ensure that there's no voter fraud with the mail-in voting process?
There's a multistep process that election officials use related to mail ballots to make sure that the ballot is actually cast by the voter that the ballot was sent to.
The first step that I mentioned previously is signature verification. All ballots must be returned in an authorized ballot return envelope, which has a spot for a signature. Ballots cannot be returned in just store-bought, blank white envelopes. It must be returned in the supplied ballot return envelope, and it must be signed.
We use the signature on the ballot return envelope to compare with signatures we have on file for the voter. It's the same signature verification process as occurs in person.
There's also barcodes on the ballot return envelopes and the ballot to make sure that we know where that ballot has been. If a person is issued more than one ballot — if a person needs to request a new ballot because the original ballot they were sent was lost or was damaged — we void out that ballot and then we reissue them a ballot.
And that ensures that nobody's able to vote more than once in the election. So even if you receive more than one ballot, you can only vote one of those ballots.
How can voters verify that their voter registration is current?
The absolute best way to verify your voter registration status is to go online, to registertovotenv.gov. and check your status online. You can also call your county election official and they can look up your voter registration status for you.
Once you're on registertovotenv.gov, you can make changes as needed to your voter registration. You can update your address if you've moved, you can update your party affiliation or make other changes.
There are a number of upcoming deadlines related to this election that everyone should be aware of. May 12 is the deadline to register to vote by mail or at a voter registration agency, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles.
If you're registering to vote by mail, which is the traditional paper voter registration form, that must be postmarked by May 12.
However, May 12 is not your last day to register to vote. If you miss that deadline, you can still register to vote online through June 4.
And then if you miss the online voter registration deadline, you can also register to vote at the polling place on the day of the election or during early voting.
However, we encourage all voters to not wait until the last minute to register to vote or make changes. We encourage everyone to go online today.
When can a person return their ballot after they received it?
This is a question we've been getting a lot lately, simply because the mail ballot voting is new for so many voters in Nevada.
By now, all the counties have put their ballots in the mail. Most voters across the state have already received their ballot. If you have not received your ballot in the mail yet, give it a few more days. If you have not received your ballot by the end of the week, please contact your county election official.
But if you've already got your ballot and you are ready to vote your ballot, you can go ahead and mark your ballot, put it in the ballot return envelope and return it right away. You do not have to wait until closer to the election to return your ballot.
What are election officials doing to ensure that there won't be ballot harvesting?
Ballot harvesting is when members of the community that aren't election officials — so they can be a part of neighborhood associations, community groups, political parties — that when they go around gathering marked and voted ballots, and then returning them on the voter’s behalf. That is not allowed in Nevada.
It is against the law for anyone other than the voter themselves, to give their ballot either to an election official or to a family member that they've authorized. If you are unable to return your ballot by mail, and you are unable to return your ballot by yourself in person, you can give your ballot to an authorized family member to return on your behalf.
However, we encourage all voters to return their ballot by mail using the prepaid ballot return envelope. This is the absolute safest way to vote in this election to ensure that your neighbors, other voters and poll workers stay safe.
How do you know if your vote gets counted?
So you've marked your absentee or your mail ballot, you've put it in the ballot return envelope and put it in the mail. And now you want to know if it's been received by your county and counted.
There are a couple of options. If you're in Clark and Washoe County, you can go on to their websites and check your status through their voter services portal, and verify that your ballot has been received.
You can also call your county election official and they can let you know whether your ballot has been received or not.
Say that you forgot to sign your ballot return envelope. You will be contacted by your county and they will let you know what the issue is and give you an opportunity to correct that issue.
So if you have not heard from your county election official, then that means there was not an issue with your ballot.
Since we're mailing everybody a ballot, will in-person voting still be available? And what will in-person voting be like?
Yes, in-person voting will be available for the June 9 primary election. In-person voting will also be available during the early voting period and on Election Day, which is June 9.
Early voting starts on May 23 and goes through June 5. Although in-person voting is available, we encourage everybody to vote by mail and use their prepaid ballot return envelope to cast their ballot. In-person voting really is designed for those that have no other option to participate in the election and need to vote in person.
The way in-person voting will work, for the vast majority of voters, it'll be just like voting your mail ballot.
You will go to the polling place. They will issue you a paper ballot. You will mark your paper ballot, and then you will drop that ballot off in a ballot dropbox. There will not be voting machines in any of the counties except Washoe County.
Voters in Washoe County when they vote in person will use the voting machine that all voters in the state are used to. Voters in all the other counties, when they vote in person, it will be very similar to the mail-in process.
There'll be a paper ballot that'll be issued to you and you will mark that ballot and then drop it in the ballot box.
How will the polling locations be set up to ensure that people can vote while minimizing the risk of the spread of COVID- 19?
All the in-person polling locations will be set up in a way to maintain social distancing. And the election workers will also be utilizing personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves to keep themselves safe.
We encourage in-person voters to wear masks and to also practice good hygiene themselves by washing their hands, and hand sanitizer will be available. We will be cleaning hard surfaces frequently and disinfecting them.
Again, the best way to vote in this election, and the safest way to vote is by mail. You avoid any lines at the polling place, and you don't potentially risk spreading COVID-19 or contracting the virus yourself.
The in-person process for most voters will be no different than the mail process. So if you're looking for an alternative to the mail process, you won't find that at in-person voting in any of the counties except in Washoe County. It'll be the paper process.
How can voters with disabilities vote in this election?
The goal of all election officials is to make sure that all voters can vote independently and privately. However, we know some voters have difficulty hand-marking a paper ballot without assistance, and we want voters to be able to vote privately without assistance, if they so choose.
Voters with a disability can use our online ballot delivery tool to request and to receive and mark their ballot. And the way they do that is to go to our effective absentees system for elections, website or nvease.gov.
And voters with disability can receive and mark their ballot using our online ballot delivery portal.
When will election results be available?
On Election Night, we will post election results, but they will be partial and they will be incomplete.
We will post the election results that we have until that point, but we will still be counting ballots. The deadline to submit your mail ballot is June 9. As long as your ballot is postmarked by June 9, and received by election officials no more than a week after that, we will count your ballot.
So we will post election results on Election Night, but we will still be counting ballots — both the ballots that have been received to that point and ballots that will be coming in after Election Day.
And so it's important to understand that the election results that we post will be updated and we will continue to update those daily in the seven to 10 days after the election until election results are final, and the counties have performed what's called the canvass, which is simply the certification of election results.
The canvass of the election must take place no later than 10 days after the election. So it could take up to 10 days after the election to have final election results.
What that means is if there's a close race, the outcome of that race will not be known until all ballots will be counted. Oftentimes people think that mail ballots are only counted if the election is close, which is a total myth.
We always count. We encourage patience among voters and candidates themselves as we count ballots. The paper ballot counting process takes a little bit longer than on the voting machines.
For more information on the mail-in voting process, visit www.mailitinnevada.com.
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