Nevada leads the way in protecting the freedom to vote
Despite the pandemic, a record number of voters across the country cast ballots last November, many people doing so from the safety of their homes. A bevy of non-partisan election experts called it one of the safest and well-conducted elections in recent history.
That should be a cause for celebration, right?
Yet, as we’ve seen this year in Georgia, Arizona, Florida, and other states with GOP-controlled legislatures, politicians have attacked our freedoms by pushing anti-voter scams in states and spreading lies about an election that trusted officials conducted and verified. The success of last year’s election caused deep consternation and hand-wringing -- enough that those states passed a slate of voting restrictions that deliberately put barriers between Americans and the right to vote.
We’ve also seen the U.S. Senate deadlock along partisan lines on the For the People Act, which would have expanded voter access, shone a light on the secretive, dark money contributions flooding our elections, and held our elected officials to higher ethical standards.
Luckily for Nevadans, our lawmakers took a markedly different approach to voting rights. They saw how well last year’s temporary measures worked to make it safer to vote during a pandemic and embraced the success of voting by mail.
Instead of tightening voting restrictions, the Legislature became one of the few in the country to strengthen and protect our citizens’ fundamental right to vote. With the passage of AB 321, Nevada made last year’s vote-by-mail reforms permanent. In all future elections every active, registered voter will receive a ballot by mail with prepaid return postage, while maintaining the option of voting in person.
Our lawmakers acknowledged that Nevada voters are familiar, comfortable, and supportive of a system that protects their health, while also recognizing that working parents, the elderly, people with disabilities, members of our military, and those in tribal communities can benefit greatly from a system that provides more, not fewer, voting options.
Now, it’s incumbent upon the state to educate Nevadans on the benefits of AB 321. This is especially critical as some decision makers spread lies to silence our voices. It’s also crucial that officials ensure this information is accessible for voters whose first language is not English and for voters with disabilities. Voters should know that they have options and that voting by mail is safe and easy.
The new law adds more ballot drop boxes throughout the state. It also ensures that voters can receive help with their ballots from relatives and friends if they need assistance. Unlike moves to restrict voting in other states, Nevadans can have someone securely deliver their ballot to a mailbox, an official drop off location, or a polling location.
One only has to look at the turnout among Native American voters to see how voting-by-mail, ballot drop boxes, and voter assistance can make sure we all have the freedom to vote, regardless of who we are or where we live. In 2020, Native American voters in Nevada had the highest turnout of all demographic groups -- up 25 percent from 2016. This was due in large part to the pro-voter reforms put in place during 2020.
Additionally, data analysis by All Voting is Local found that expanding safe options for casting a ballot helped increase turnout among every demographic group. In 2020, 48 percent of Nevada voters cast a mailed ballot, compared to only 7 percent in 2016. It was particularly popular in rural areas where 53 percent of voters mailed in their ballots.
Passing legislation is only a start. Nevada officials must ensure the smooth implementation of the law so that all Nevadans have an opportunity to make their voices heard in the upcoming midterm election.
When more Americans are given the opportunity to participate in our elections by removing barriers to the ballot box, our democracy is not only stronger but our government better reflects the will of the people. States nationwide must end the onslaught on the right to vote and follow Nevada’s example.
Mary Janet Ramos is the campaign manager for All Voting is Local Nevada. Prior to joining All Voting is Local, Ramos worked as a research analyst with the Culinary Workers Union Local 226.