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

By Jason Frierson

Every two years, the Nevada secretary of state is responsible for running a successful election across our state. The secretary of state has the responsibility to be a fair and honest steward of that process, regardless of political party or personal interests.

In a recent op-ed in The Nevada Independent, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske boldly claims that in the face of a pandemic that’s claimed 150,000 American lives and disrupted elections across the country: “Nevada’s voting laws do not need to be changed.” 

Nevada now averages upwards of 1,000 new COVID-19 cases every day. More than 800 Nevadans have died as a result of this pandemic, and with no clear federal plan to combat this crisis, it’s clear there won’t be a return to normal anytime soon. As the state’s top election official responsible for organizing this November’s elections amid an unprecedented global crisis, it’s time to acknowledge that this year’s election will need serious planning, preparation and yes—changes to our voting laws. As most Nevadans have taken precautions to make shopping, traveling and other everyday tasks safer, Nevada leaders must take action to ensure everyone can safely exercise their right to vote. 

Fortunately for all of us, the changes we need for a safe, secure and successful election are hardly a secret. Secretary Cegavske oversaw one of those changes in our June 9 primary.

First and foremost, we must send every active registered voter a mail-in ballot this year—just as we did in June. Despite Secretary Cegavske writing that “we are no longer in an emergency situation,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, not to mention countless public health experts, disagrees. It’s abundantly clear that life will not return to normal before Nov. 3, and it’s crucial that we provide eligible Nevadans with the option to cast a ballot from the safety of their own homes and help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. 

By mailing eligible, active registered voters a ballot this fall, we can ensure no one will need to risk their health—or the health of their family—to cast a ballot, and relieve pressure on in-person voting. Recommending that voters visit an online portal to request a mail ballot excludes the considerable number of Nevadans without reliable access to the internet, not to mention older voters who may not be comfortable navigating an online portal.

Any plan to protect this year’s elections cannot stop at statewide mail-in voting. Nevada voters must also have the opportunity to safely cast a ballot in-person at an accessible polling place. More than half of all voters want the ability to safely vote in person this November, and it’s up to the secretary of state to make that happen. Secretary Cegavske must take steps to recruit and train poll workers who will keep our traditional number of early vote and Election Day polling places open this November, avoiding poll closures that led to long lines across the state during our primary election. Despite registered Clark County voters receiving mail-in ballots for the June primary, a number of voters still chose to register and vote in-person—and we have to be ready to meet that demand in November. Keeping our voting laws the same during a time of crisis is, quite frankly,  irresponsible. The pandemic has created many challenges to our daily life, but safely participating in the November election should not be one of them. 

Like everything else during this pandemic, it’s impossible to claim that preparing for this year’s election will be easy. However, faced with the challenge of preserving our democratic process, Nevadans expect their leaders to do more than throw their hands in the air, as if to say there’s nothing I can do. With Congressman John Lewis's recent passing, we are all reminded that, "The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society." We must do all we can to protect it.  

For the sake of our democracy under this indisputable emergency, and with the playbook for success laid out in front of us, the people of Nevada need leadership to save our elections. I am proud of the Legislature and Gov. Sisolak, who have stepped in to protect our sacred right to vote.

Jason Frierson, is speaker and a Democratic member of the Assembly.

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