When Gaye Nickles, 71, checked her mailbox one afternoon, she was disconcerted to find a mailing with the words, "NOTICE: OUR RECORDS INDICATE YOU ARE NOT REGISTERED TO VOTE," emblazoned across the front of a letter featuring a logo resembling Nevada's state seal.
Nickles, a retiree, has lived in Washoe County for about half a century, and has voted in every election since she and her husband moved to Nevada. She has also volunteered in voter registration drives and at polling locations in past elections.
"I did the first thing that you would do, and that is check. Check to see that you are registered. We both are," Nickles said.
The mailing, which came from the state Republican Party, also included a voter registration form Nickles had never seen before asking her to list her race or ethnic group — a question not included on Nevada's official registration application. It was followed by two subsequent mailings written with similar phrasing and warnings, leaving her perplexed and worried for others who may not speak English as a first language or be familiar with Nevada's voter registration process.
"What if somebody got this and now they were confused about whether or not they registered, whether or not the secretary of state or the registrar's office maybe lost their registration?" Nickles said.
Nickles is not the only one troubled by the mailings, which arrive in an election year when the president of the United States is suing Nevada over a bill expanding mail-in voting for the general election and the U.S. Postal Service sent a postcard with inaccurate information about mail-in voting in Nevada.
Residents throughout Nevada received the same mailings, and various county election officials reported numerous calls from confused voters, Wayne Thorley, the deputy secretary of state for elections, told The Nevada Independent in an email.
The state is not sure how many mailers the Nevada Republican Party sent out, and the Nevada Republican Party did not respond to a request seeking more information.
The voter registration form that Nickles had never seen before is the National Mail Voter Registration Form, Thorley explained, and federal law requires states to accept voter registrations completed using the form. The form is developed and maintained by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
"Strictly speaking, the mailers are legal," Thorley wrote. "However, NRS 293.562 does require any group that sends out a mailer like this to 'indicate clearly on the notice that it is not official elections mail from the Secretary of State or a county or city clerk.'"
The mailing from the Nevada Republican Party notes that the form "is not official elections mail from the Secretary of State or a county or city clerk," keeping it in compliance with the law.
Every election cycle, third parties or even major political parties send outreach mailers to voters, Washoe County Registrar Deanna Spikula said in an interview on Wednesday, explaining that mailings often help raise awareness of voter registration. If a registered voter does fill one out, the county updates existing information.
Though the National Mail Voter Registration Form asks about race and ethnicity, Nevada law does not require voters to identify their race or ethnicity to vote. Thorley said Nevada's state-specific instructions tell voters to leave that field on the form blank.
Spikula added that because Washoe County does not collect race or ethnicity identifiers, the registrar's office would omit the field when loading the registration information into its database.
"I received two of those myself," Spikula said, referring to the mailings Nickles received. "I don't care for the wording they use. I think it's confusing and I think they can message better."
Thorley also expressed unease about the phrasing of the registration mailings.
"Obviously, we are supportive of efforts to encourage people to register to vote, but it's not helpful when a currently registered voter gets a notice in the mail indicating that they aren't registered to vote," Thorley said. "It is easy to find out who is currently registered to vote in Nevada. The list is available for free download on the Secretary of State's website."
He added that the most convenient and secure way to register to vote online is through the Secretary of State’s online form because voter information is verified and sent to the county election immediately after the user clicks the ‘submit’ button. Only residents with a Nevada driver’s license or identification card can register to vote online, however, and eligible people without identification cards need to register using the paper form.
Around election season, Spikula said she often gets calls from upset voters, letting her know that they received a registration form from a third-party for a relative or loved one who passed away or for someone who had moved out of the property.
"I wish [third-parties] would work more closely with the election officials in the state and the secretary of state's office to make sure that their data is up to date and we're not mailing these to people who shouldn't receive one because either they're registered or are deceased or don't live in the state anymore," Spikula said.