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Election 2020 | Indy Explainers

The Indy Explains: Question 4, enshrining voting rights in the state Constitution

In-person voting in Washoe County on June 9, 2020. Photo by David Calvert.

Formal name: State Constitutional Rights of Voters Amendment

Type of measure: Legislative resolution to amend the Nevada Constitution

Summary of what it does: If approved, it would add a list of 11 voting rights and privileges — known as the Voters’ Bill of Rights — to the state Constitution.

That list of rights was added to state law in 2002, following passage of the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002 that required states to post voter instructions, rights and information at polling places.

The list of provisions in the current “Voters’ Bill of Rights” — which under this ballot question would be added to the Constitution — includes the following:

  • Receive and cast a ballot that is written in a format that allows the clear identification of candidates and accurately records the voter’s selection of candidates 
  • Have questions concerning voting procedures answered and have an explanation of the procedures for voting posted conspicuously at the polling place
  • Vote without being intimidated, threatened, or coerced
  • Vote during any period of early voting or on Election Day if the voter has not yet voted and, at the time that the polls close, the voter is waiting in line to vote at a polling place at which, by law, the voter is entitled to vote
  • Return a spoiled ballot and receive a replacement ballot
  • Request assistance with voting, if needed
  • Receive a sample ballot that is accurate, informative, and delivered in a timely manner as provided by law
  • Receive instruction on the use of voting equipment during any period of early voting or on Election Day
  • Have equal access to the elections system without discrimination 
  • Have a uniform, statewide standard for counting and recounting all votes accurately as provided by law 
  • Have complaints about elections and election contests resolved fairly, accurately, and efficiently as provided by law

What have other states done?: Many states have constitutional language guaranteeing the right to vote, or have outlined similar lists of a voters’ rights in state law or policy. It’s more rare for a state to pass an amendment enshrining those rights in their state Constitution.

Many states have taken active steps or explicitly spell out the right to vote in their own Constitutions. The right to vote is not expressly granted in the U.S. Constitution, but is instead considered an “implied” right, meaning the several amendments that detail voting only outline what the government cannot do to limit voting.

A total of 49 states have some explicit provision granting the right to vote in their constitutions. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states have implemented a state constitutional requirement that elections be “free,” which several courts have interpreted as guaranteeing all eligible voters access to the ballot.

Arguments for passing Question 4: Backers of the ballot question say placing the existing “Voters’ Bill of Rights” in the Nevada Constitution would provide “several simple, yet crucial, constitutional guarantees to protect both voters and the integrity of our elections.”

Backers also say that as the current requirements have been in state law for close to two decades, there should be little to no implementation costs if the measure is improved. 

“When you have had to fight for every right, you recognize the fundamental principles of having the ability to vote without encumbrance,” Democratic state Sen. Pat Spearman said while presenting the bill during a 2017 committee meeting. “Today, more than ever, it is important for us to protect those rights in the U.S. Constitution and in the Nevada Constitution.”

Arguments against passing Question 4: Opponents (in a digest published by the secretary of state’s office) say that basic voting rights are already enshrined in the federal and state constitutions, calling the ballot question a “solution in search of a problem.”

Opponents say that while voting rights are vitally important, they are not “timeless in their structure or application, and the forms they take may change substantially as the ways in which we vote and conduct elections evolve.” 

How Question 4 qualified for the ballot: This ballot question comes to voters after being approved in the 2017 and 2019 legislative sessions.

The measure was initially introduced as SJR3 in the 2017 Legislature, and passed out of both houses with bipartisan majorities; 21-0 in the Senate, and 38-3 in the Assembly.

SJR3 returned to the 2019 Legislature, where it passed unanimously out of both legislative houses — sending the proposed constitutional change to the 2020 ballot.

Primary funders: No political action committees or groups supporting or opposing this ballot measure have been formed.

Financial impact: As the provisions of Question 4 are similar to existing language on voting already enforced in state law, fiscal analysts expect there to be no financial effect on the state or local governments should the ballot question pass.

Status: If approved by a majority of voters, the language in Question 4 will become part of Nevada’s Constitution on Nov. 24.

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