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Secretary of State apologizes for voter record glitch after Nevada’s presidential primary

Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar said a centralized voter system going live in a few weeks should prevent future errors.
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Election 2024

Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar publicly apologized Thursday morning for a highly publicized computer glitch that led to online voting records reflecting people participated in the presidential primary when they didn’t, and said that an in-the-works centralized voter registration system would prevent such errors in the future.

Aguilar reiterated in a press release Thursday that the issue did not affect vote tabulation during the state’s recent presidential primary, and there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state.

“No voter should ever look at the Secretary of State’s website and see inaccurate information,” Aguilar said. “This was a technical error that should not have happened, resulting from a patchwork, bottom-up voter registration system that has long needed to be replaced.”

That statement echoed comments Aguilar, a Democrat elected to the office in 2022, made to The Nevada Independent late Wednesday as part of an interview for the On the Trail podcast, where he compared the 17 county systems and additional state system pulling voter data together to a technological “Frankenstein.”

“We failed in that process,” Aguilar said. “And so I apologize [to voters] because I don't want any voter to ever feel as though they should be concerned about the information.”

He also reiterated that the registration information and ballot tabulations were two intentionally separated systems. 

“The votes are actually accurate and right. There was no issue with the tabulation,” Aguilar said. 

Aguilar told The Nevada Independent on Wednesday that the state’s new top-down registration and election management system will go live in April, before the June 2024 election, and with enough time to conduct mock elections to test the new models. He added that Clark County already began using the system — which is separate from the one used for submitting voter histories — for the presidential primary, and that “it actually worked as intended.” 

A memo issued by the secretary of state’s office Thursday said that the computer glitch was a “simple and preventable” discrepancy in how the state voter database interpreted data sent from individual counties. Officials wrote that the memo was based on the understanding of the situation from staff at the secretary of state’s office and is not intended to speak on behalf of counties.

The office receives data from Nevada’s 17 counties and then stitches them into a single file — a “bottom-up” practice that officials said has not been the industry standard for decades.

Through last Friday, the state’s database interpreted the code “MB” from files sent by 12 counties as meaning that a mail ballot had been sent to a voter. However, after Friday — the legal deadline for counties to canvass the results of the presidential primary election — the state’s system interpreted the “MB” code as meaning that a person’s mail ballot has been counted. 

This led the state’s public-facing database to erroneously show that the mail ballots of voters who did not participate in the presidential primary election had been counted. Data from the secretary of state indicates that counties sent mail ballots to more than 1.1 million active registered Democratic and Republican voters, but only 165,756 returned their ballots as part of the presidential primary.

The memo stated that the office became aware of the issues on Sunday, and that a solution could not be reached without consulting individual county staff the following day. By 8 p.m. on Tuesday, the office said all errors had been fixed.

Issues and resolutions varied across counties. In 12 rural counties using the same election management system (Churchill, Elko, Esmerelda, Eureka, Humboldt, Lincoln, Lyon, Mineral, Nye, Pershing, Storey and White Pine), the problem was over a setting related to the “MB” code. Issues in Clark County stemmed from files that were sent to the state in a format that the “state system could not read appropriately, and resulted in inaccurate information.” 

Errors in Washoe County data took place because of the county’s election management system, which the vendor no longer supports. The memo said any regulatory changes that require adjustments to source code have the potential for error, and because the Washoe error was specific to its unique voter management system, identifying the problems and solutions was “complicated.”

The memo also laid some blame on the “increasingly politicized climate around elections,” which has increased demands on county clerks and election workers, spurred soaring turnover rates and squeezed available resources. Any one of those issues, the memo said, combined with “the precarity of the bottom-up system currently in place,” could create “unfortunate outcomes.”  

“This was also the culmination of various issues that election administrators at the state and local level have been trying to address for years,” the memo said. 

New voter registration system

At a Thursday meeting of the Interim Standing Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections, Aguilar said that moving to a top-down system will prevent this week’s glitch from happening again.

The first phase to modernize the system is set to go live on April 1, and efforts to further modernize and centralize the system are scheduled to go live in 2025. Clark County will not be immediately included under the same system as other counties.

State officials said that the change will allow for standardized training among all election officials, reduce time to validate voter registration applications and allow for comprehensive maintenance of voter history.

In 2021, the Legislature passed AB422, which called for creating the new system and established a January 2024 deadline. A year later, Deputy for Elections Mark Wlaschin asked lawmakers for an extension until 2026 and said that elections officials wanted to build the new system “properly, not quickly.”

In 2023, the Legislature approved $30.5 million, including $25 million from the general fund, to support one-time costs for the project. Before that, the project had been funded through grant dollars from the Help America Vote Act.

County elections officials told lawmakers on Thursday that the new system will allow for greater oversight of voter activity and more election transparency.

“It's one system, so a voter cannot go to Washoe County, and then two days later go to Clark County and try to vote. We'll catch those,” interim Washoe County Registrar Cari-Ann Burgess said.


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