The Indy Explains: Everything to know about Nevada’s expanded mail-in election
Nevada’s decision to expand mail-in voting for the 2020 general election has become a partisan battleground, after President Donald Trump’s campaign sued to block the election changes put in place by the state’s Democratically-controlled Legislature in a summer special session.
But beyond the headlines, what changes do Nevada voters need to know about before the 2020 general election arrives on Nov. 3?
Similar to the state’s primary election in June, all active registered voters in the state will automatically receive an absentee ballot without having to take any action. But in the most populous counties of the state — Washoe and Clark — voters will also have dozens of locations where they can cast a vote in person if they wish.
But there are several other election-related changes made in AB4 — the bill implementing the new election procedures and that was passed on party-lines during the most recent legislative special session. It explicitly authorizes ballot collection from non-family members (derided as “ballot harvesting” by some Republicans) and includes provisions allowing for people to help certain individuals, such as the physically disabled or voters over the age of 65.
The heightened attention and political disagreements over the changes for this upcoming election have led to many questions, speculation and sometimes misinformation about how Nevada will conduct the November election.
Below, The Nevada Independent has compiled and answered a list of frequently asked questions regarding the state’s changes and modifications in place for the 2020 election.
When will I get a mail ballot?
AB4 sets deadlines for when mail ballots have to be sent out, but it’s possible that mail ballots will arrive before then. Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s office says to expect them to be mailed out in late September or early October.
Regardless, the deadlines in the new law require all active voters to be sent a mail-in ballot no later than 20 days before the election, which is Oct. 14. Overseas or military voters are required to receive their ballot no later than 45 days before the election, which is Sept. 19, and voters who live out of state but are still registered to vote in Nevada must receive ballots no later than 40 days before the election, or Sept. 24 .
The language around dates in the law refers to mailing deadlines, not when all voters should have their ballots, so it may take a few extra days to receive a mail ballot.
Counties are still finalizing their election plans, but they will eventually be published on the secretary of state’s website here.
What happens if I don’t receive a mail ballot?
The secretary of state’s office recommends contacting your local election clerk if you have not received a mail ballot within a week of the expected mail date.
A list of contact information for all county election clerks can be found here.
The office also recommends updating your mailing information ahead of time. Ballots will be mailed to the address on file with the local election office and — importantly — cannot be forwarded to a new address by the U.S. Postal Service. Voters are encouraged to check their registration and address well in advance of Election Day at www.registertovotenv.gov.
What do I need to know to fill out a mail ballot?
Instructions are provided on the envelope sent with every mailed ballot. But there are still a few important things to note before filling out a mail ballot.
For one, don’t forget to sign the outside of the envelope. Signatures are used to confirm a voter’s identity, so if there’s no signature, the vote won’t be counted. If there are issues with a signature, or it doesn’t appear to match the signature on file, county election officials will reach out to a voter and engage in a process called “signature cure,” which gives voters a chance to resolve questions about the signature.
Election officials also say not to include more than one ballot in the return mail envelope.
When do I need to mail or turn in a mail ballot?
Ballots can be filled out and mailed back immediately after they are received. In order to be counted, a mail ballot has to be returned and postmarked no later than Election Day (Nov. 3) and received by an election clerk no later than seven days after Election Day.
AB4 includes a provision stating that if a mail ballot is received by no later than 5 p.m. on the third day after the election and the date of the postmark “cannot be determined”, the ballot will be counted and deemed to have been postmarked the day on or before the election. That provision was put in place during the 2019 Legislature.
The secretary of state’s office says ballots given to a mail carrier or deposited in a U.S. Post Office receptacle prior to the last posted pick-up time will result in that ballot being postmarked on the same day.
Can I use a drop-off box?
To avoid concerns about getting your ballot counted in time, election officials encourage voters to mail or turn in mail ballots before Election Day, or to turn in their ballots via a secure drop box location, which must occur prior to 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Every county in the state is required to have at least one drop-off location; a full list will be available on the secretary of state’s website, and a preliminary list of drop-boxes has already been published for Clark County.
How do I know that I’m an “active” voter, and what does that mean?
Unlike in the 2020 primary election, when active and inactive Clark County voters received a mail ballot, the 2020 general election will only see active voters in the state receive a mail ballot.
So what exactly is an inactive voter?
Both active and inactive voters are registered voters and allowed to cast ballots during elections. A voter is marked as “inactive” once election mail sent to their on-file address is marked as undeliverable, and a separate forwardable postcard asking the voter to update the address has not been returned within 30 days.
Inactive voters are still allowed to cast a ballot as long as they meet all other legal requirements for voting. Once placed on the “inactive” voter roll, the individual’s voter registration is canceled if the voter does not vote in the next two federal elections or shows no other voter activity during that time.
Of Nevada’s nearly 1.9 million registered voters, more than 250,000 are considered “inactive.”
As for active voters, Deputy Secretary of State Wayne Thorley says that designation is somewhat of a misnomer — it refers to the group of voters who have a confirmed address on file with election officials. It has nothing to do with how often a person votes.
If you’ve recently moved or not voted in awhile, but registered to vote in the past, the secretary of state’s office recommends checking your voter registration status at www.registertovotenv.gov to ensure that your address and other information is correct and up-to-date.
How do I know if my ballot was received?
While voters can mail or turn in their mail ballot any time after receiving it before Election Day, the election law changes in AB4 only allow for election officials to start processing ballots 15 days before Election Day (previously law allowed for ballot processing to begin four working days before the election.)
Voters can also see whether their ballot has been successfully received through the online portal maintained by the secretary of state’s office or registrars in Clark and Washoe counties.
In late September, the secretary of state's office announced a partnership with a ballot tracking service, BallotTrax, that gives voters alerts about the status of their ballot by text, email, or phone calls.
You can sign up for their service through their website, at nevada.ballottrax.net.
What if there’s an issue with my mail-in ballot?
County election officials are required to reach out to voters if there are any issues with their signature or mail ballot in order to offer them a chance to correct the issue.
But first, it’s worth noting how the changes in AB4 affect the signature verification process.
The law requires the county clerk or election office employee to check the signature on the ballot with all other signatures on record. If at least two employees in the office believe there is a “a reasonable question of fact” as to whether the signatures match, the office will contact the voter and ask for confirmation of the signature on the ballot.
The law also defines what a “reasonable question of fact” entails: any differences between the signatures that differ in “multiple, significant and obvious respects” from other signatures of the voter on record, excluding any use of initials, nicknames or “slight dissimilarities” between the signatures.
If a clerk or county election office determines that there is an issue with the signature (or no signature was included) on the ballot, but the voter is otherwise entitled to cast a ballot, they’re required to reach out to the voter and offer an opportunity to correct the issue(s) and cast a ballot. For a mail ballot to be counted, the voter needs to turn in a valid signature no later than 5 p.m. on the ninth day following the election.
Can I give my ballot to someone else to turn in?
Starting with this election, yes. AB4 now allows any voter to authorize another person to turn in their mail ballot for them, a practice known as ballot collection (also called “ballot harvesting” by opponents of the concept).
If a ballot is given to another person to turn in to election officials, the collector is required to turn in the collected ballot within three days of receiving it, or by Election Day. They’re also prohibited from changing, modifying or destroying an accepted absentee ballot given to them by another voter. Failure to do so is punishable as a felony.
This change will remain in place even outside of “affected” elections, meaning it will be in place once the governor’s state of emergency order expires. Nevada law previously only allows family members to turn in absentee ballots for another person, making it a felony to do so for anyone else.
Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske is requesting emergency regulations that would allow her office to keep closer tabs on anyone turning in more than 10 ballots for other voters. Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office has denied that request.
Can I help someone else fill out a ballot?
Under AB4, voters who have a physical disability, are over the age of 65 or are unable to read or write can designate another person to help mark and sign a mail ballot.
Any person who fills out or signs a ballot on behalf of another voter in the above-mentioned categories needs to indicate next to the signature that they assisted in filling out the ballot, and include a written statement including name, address and signature.
Can I still vote in person if I want?
Yes. Every county in the state is required to have at least one in-person polling place operating on Election Day. A full list of dates and times will be posted on the secretary of state’s website here once counties finalize their plans.
AB4 also requires minimum numbers of in-person polling places to be open in Clark and Washoe counties on Election Day. Clark County is required to have at least 100 vote centers open; Washoe is required to have at least 25 sites open.
What about early voting? Is that still happening?
Also yes. As with the requirements for a minimum number of polling places on Election Day, AB4 requires Clark County to have a minimum of 35 in-person early voting sites, and requires 15 sites in Washoe County. All other counties are required to have at least one in-person early voting site available during the two-week early voting period, which runs from Oct. 17 to Oct. 30.
A list of early voting sites in Clark County can be found here.
Wait, so what do I do with my mail ballot if I want to vote in-person?
In order to vote in person, voters who received a mail ballot will need to take the physical ballot with them to the polling place and turn it into election officials before casting a vote in-person. If you forget to bring it or don’t have your mail ballot, you’ll have to sign an affirmation declaring that you are not voting twice in the election.
Election officials also will check when a voter checks in at a polling place to see whether they have previously received a ballot from that person. That’s intended to catch situations in which a person attempts to vote in-person more than once, or mails in a ballot and then tries to cast a ballot in-person later.
It’s a felony crime in Nevada for a voter to attempt to vote more than once during the same election.
I forgot to register before the deadline to receive a mail ballot. Can I still vote?
Yes. Under a law passed by the 2019 Legislature, Nevada now allows for same-day voter registration, meaning a person can show up to a polling place, register to vote and then cast a ballot all on the same day. This is not a change just for the 2020 election; it’s in place for all future elections.
The close of voter registration for the general election is Oct. 6 if a voter plans to register to vote by mail, or Oct. 29 if you register to vote online.
If you register to vote online after Oct. 6, but before Oct. 15, you will be able to cast a regular ballot in person on Election Day or during early voting, or vote by using a mail ballot.
If you miss the Oct. 15 deadline, you can still register to vote, but you’ll have to show up in person. Voters who register after the deadline or physically at a polling place will have to cast a ballot in-person, and will cast provisional ballots.
For the voter, provisional ballots look just like a regular ballot with all listed contests, candidates and questions. However, provisional ballots are not counted until election officials are able to verify the voter was qualified to vote in the election, did not vote more than once, and was able to (if necessary) provide additional proof of residency.
If you’re headed to vote in-person and are not already registered to vote, election officials require you to bring your current, unexpired Nevada driver’s licenses, a state ID card or a current DMV temporary document. If the addresses on a DMV item don’t match your actual address, you’ll need to bring in additional proof of residency such a utility bill, bank or credit union statements, an income tax return or property tax statement, or any other document issued by a government agency.
Are these changes permanent?
Some of them, yes. Provisions involving the minimum number of polling places and the expanded mail voting are only triggered during what’s called “affected” elections, or elections conducted during a legislative or governor-declared state of emergency. Nevada remains under the state of emergency initially called by Gov. Steve Sisolak in March, meaning the provisions as of now only apply to the 2020 general election.
Other provisions, including the ballot collection provisions, are permanent and will remain in effect for future elections.
Updated on Aug. 25, 2020 at 3:48 p.m. to include additional information and correct several answers. Updated again on Aug. 26 at 9:01 a.m. to include additional information about election changes. Updated on Sept. 23, 2020 at 4:09 p.m. to include information about a ballot tracking service for Nevada voters