Bill to make mail-in voting the Nevada norm weathers first hearing

Bill to make mail-in voting the Nevada norm weathers first hearing
A polling site in Fallon, Nevada on Nov. 3, 2020. Image: Ty O'Neil / This Is Reno

Measure would make universal mail-in ballots permanent

By Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
This story was originally published by Nevada Current.

CARSON CITY–Colorado, Oregon, Hawaii, Washington and Utah already mail ballots to every voter. With Assembly Bill 321, Nevada would join them, by making the mail-in practice deployed during the 2020 pandemic election permanent.

On‌ ‌Tuesday,‌ ‌the‌ ‌Nevada‌ ‌Assembly‌ ‌Committee‌ ‌on‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌Operations‌ ‌and‌ ‌Elections‌ ‌held‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌public‌ ‌hearing‌ ‌AB 321, which contains many of the same provisions as Assembly Bill 4, the pandemic response measure passed in a 2020 special session that ordered ballots be mailed to all registered voters with prepaid return postage.

Supporters say‌ the bill will expand access to voters, assertions borne out in the 2020 election which saw record-breaking turnout.

Opponents‌ ‌used the hearing to echo claims of former President Donald Trump, made over several months leading up to the 2020 election and then afterward, that the mail-in voting process is rife with fraud and abuse.

Such allegations were raised after the election in courtrooms across the country, including in Nevada, only to be dismissed, almost always for a lack of evidence.

During‌ ‌Thursday’s hearing on AB 321, ‌Vice-chair‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Nevada‌ ‌Republican‌ ‌Party‌ ‌Jim‌ ‌Hindle‌ ‌opposed‌ ‌the‌ ‌bill‌ ‌on‌ ‌behalf‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌state‌ ‌party‌ ‌citing‌ ‌prior‌ ‌voting‌ ‌irregularities‌ ‌documented‌ ‌and‌ ‌submitted‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Secretary‌ ‌of‌ ‌State‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌party‌ ‌after‌ ‌the‌ ‌2020‌ ‌election.‌ 

The party declared earlier this year that it had submitted more than 120,000 voter complaints of 2020 voting irregularities. The Nevada Secretary of State’s office issued a statement in March saying “a detailed review concluded that there was a total of 3,963 Elections Integrity Violation Reports, all filed by the chairman of the Nevada Republican Party — a number of which are already under investigation by law enforcement.”‌

Hindle‌ ‌said‌ ‌he‌ ‌opposed‌ ‌universal‌ ‌mail-in‌ ‌ballots‌ ‌to‌ ‌voters‌ ‌“with‌ ‌known‌ ‌bad‌ ‌addresses”‌ ‌he‌ ‌said‌ ‌would‌ ‌put‌ ‌“‌ballots‌ ‌out‌ ‌in‌ ‌circulation‌ ‌for‌ ‌bad‌ ‌actors‌ ‌to‌ ‌steal‌ ‌and‌ ‌submit.”‌ ‌He‌ ‌also‌ ‌said‌ ‌the‌ ‌party‌ ‌opposed‌ ‌the‌ ‌opt-out‌ ‌provision‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌bill.‌ ‌

“It‌ ‌is‌ ‌critical‌ ‌quality‌ ‌control‌ ‌practice‌ ‌to‌ ‌complete‌ ‌analysis‌ ‌of‌ ‌past‌ ‌performance‌ ‌to‌ ‌identify‌ ‌areas‌ ‌for‌ ‌process‌ ‌correction‌ ‌and‌ ‌improvement‌ ‌before‌ ‌implementing‌ ‌changes‌ ‌in‌ ‌practice,”‌ ‌Hindle‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“Clearly,‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌premature‌ ‌to‌ ‌adopt‌ ‌the‌ ‌provisions‌ ‌in‌ ‌AB‌ ‌321‌ ‌without‌ ‌first‌ ‌completing‌ ‌the‌ ‌investigation‌ ‌that‌ ‌acknowledges‌ ‌the‌ ‌irregularities‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌cycle.”‌ ‌

State‌ ‌and‌ ‌judicial‌ ‌reviews‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌2020‌ ‌election‌ in Nevada and elsewhere ‌show‌ ‌that‌ ‌mail-in‌ ‌voting‌ ‌has‌ ‌not‌ ‌generated‌ ‌significant‌ ‌fraud.‌ ‌Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson‌ ‌noted ‌Democrats actually lost legislative seats, including  their‌ ‌veto-proof‌ ‌majority‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌Assembly‌, in the 2020 election.‌ ‌

“Concerns‌ ‌about‌ ‌election‌ ‌security‌ ‌are‌ ‌real‌ ‌and‌ ‌should‌ ‌be‌ ‌taken‌ ‌seriously.‌ ‌No‌ ‌one‌ ‌should‌ ‌disregard‌ ‌it‌ ‌and‌ ‌I‌ ‌don’t,”‌ ‌said‌ ‌‌Frierson said.‌ ‌

Republican‌ ‌Assemblywoman‌ ‌‌Jill‌ ‌Dickman‌ ‌expressed‌ ‌concern‌ ‌about‌ ‌the‌ ‌possibility‌ ‌of‌ ‌voters‌ ‌being‌ ‌turned‌ ‌away‌ ‌if‌ ‌they‌ ‌try‌ ‌to‌ ‌vote‌ ‌in‌ ‌person‌ ‌after‌ receiving‌ ‌a‌ ‌mail-in‌ ‌ballot.‌ ‌ ‌

“That‌ ‌actually‌ ‌happened‌ ‌to‌ ‌me‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌primary,”‌ ‌Dickman‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“I‌ ‌went‌ ‌to‌ ‌vote‌ ‌and‌ ‌I‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌bring‌ ‌my‌ ‌ballot‌ ‌so‌ ‌they‌ ‌were‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌me‌ ‌cast‌ ‌a‌ ‌provisional‌ ‌ballot.”‌ ‌ ‌

“I’ve‌ ‌had‌ ‌countless‌ ‌constituents‌ ‌that‌ ‌have‌ ‌reached‌ ‌out‌ ‌to‌ ‌me‌ ‌since‌ ‌the‌ ‌election‌ ‌to‌ ‌express‌ ‌to‌ ‌me‌ ‌their‌ ‌distrust‌ ‌and‌ ‌uneasiness‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌process‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌2020‌ ‌election‌. ‌In‌ ‌fact‌ ‌many‌ ‌have‌ ‌said‌ ‌they‌ ‌aren’t‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌vote‌ ‌again,”‌ ‌Dickman‌ ‌said.‌ ‌

Republican‌ ‌Minority‌ ‌Whip‌ ‌Assemblyman‌ ‌Glen‌ ‌Leavitt‌ ‌objected to allowing‌ ‌‌third-party‌ ‌individuals‌ ‌to‌ ‌collect‌ ‌and‌ ‌submit‌ ‌completed‌ ‌mail-in‌ ‌ballots,‌‌ ‌a‌ ‌ballot‌ ‌assistance‌ ‌provision‌ ‌‌typically‌ ‌referred‌ ‌to‌ ‌by‌ ‌Republicans‌ ‌as‌ ‌“ballot‌ ‌harvesting.”‌ ‌ ‌

“I‌ ‌think‌ ‌ballot‌ ‌harvesting‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌misnomer,”‌ ‌replied‌ ‌Frierson.‌ ‌“When‌ ‌you‌ ‌talking‌ ‌about‌ ‌ballot‌ ‌assistance …‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌not‌ ‌an‌ ‌accurate‌ ‌description‌ ‌of‌ ‌what‌ ‌it‌ ‌is.”‌ ‌ ‌

Republican‌ ‌Assemblyman‌ ‌Andy‌ ‌Mathews‌ ‌said‌ ‌the‌ ‌most‌ ‌common‌ ‌issues‌ ‌he‌ ‌encountered‌ ‌with‌ ‌constituents ‌were‌ ‌ballots‌ ‌erroneously‌ ‌being‌ ‌sent‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌wrong‌ ‌homes,‌ ‌adding‌ ‌that‌ ‌he‌ ‌believes‌ ‌the‌ ‌opt-out‌ ‌provision‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌bill‌ ‌would‌ ‌solve‌ ‌the‌ ‌problem‌ ‌and‌ ‌questioned‌ ‌whether‌ ‌the‌ ‌universal‌ ‌mail-in‌ ‌voting‌ ‌was‌ ‌necessary‌ ‌when‌ ‌the‌ ‌state‌ ‌allows‌ ‌absentee‌ ‌ballots.‌ ‌ ‌

“We‌ ‌went‌ ‌from‌ ‌an‌ ‌absentee‌ ‌voting‌ ‌turnout‌ ‌of‌ ‌10‌%‌ ‌to‌ ‌48‌%.‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌that‌ ‌is‌ ‌indicative‌ ‌of‌ ‌an‌ ‌interest‌ ‌in‌ ‌moving‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌direction‌ ‌and‌ ‌providing‌ ‌this‌ ‌additional‌ ‌option,”‌ ‌Frierson‌ ‌said‌ ‌in‌ ‌reply.‌ ‌

Frierson‌ ‌said‌ ‌the‌ ‌bill‌ ‌includes‌ ‌an‌ ‌expansion‌ ‌of‌ ‌signature‌ ‌verification‌ ‌measures‌, ‌including‌ ‌annual‌ ‌mandatory‌ ‌forensic‌ ‌training‌ ‌for‌ ‌election‌ ‌officials‌, ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌bipartisan‌ ‌election‌ ‌board‌ ‌to‌ ‌review‌ ‌suspect‌ ‌signatures.‌ ‌

“In‌ ‌respect‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌philosophical‌ ‌discussion‌ ‌about‌ ‌opt-out‌ ‌opt-in,‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌when‌ ‌it‌ ‌comes‌ ‌to‌ ‌something‌ ‌as‌ ‌important‌ ‌as‌ ‌elections‌ ‌we‌ ‌may‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌agree‌ ‌to‌ ‌disagree‌ ‌on‌ ‌that,”‌ ‌Frierson‌ ‌said,‌ ‌lauding‌ ‌the‌ ‌state’s‌ ‌record‌ ‌turn-out‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌addition‌ ‌of‌ ‌universal‌ ‌mail-in‌ ‌ballots.‌ ‌

Several‌ ‌advocacy‌ ‌groups‌ ‌spoke‌ ‌in‌ ‌favor‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌bill’s‌ ‌potential‌ ‌to‌ ‌increase‌ ‌voter‌ ‌access‌ ‌and‌ ‌increase‌ ‌participation,‌ ‌including‌ ‌the‌ ‌Progressive‌ ‌Leadership‌ ‌Alliance‌ ‌of‌ ‌Nevada,‌ ‌Mi‌ ‌Familia‌ ‌Vota,‌ ‌ACLU‌ ‌Nevada,‌ ‌Battle‌ ‌Born‌ ‌Progress, and the Culinary union. ‌