Washoe County is gearing up for a general election like no other in the nation’s history. Many voters — bombarded by news bulletins, advice on social media, conspiracy theories, information and misinformation from every quarter — aren’t sure what to expect when ballots arrive in the mail in October.
Some common questions: Even though the state will send ballots out to every active registered voter, should you apply for an absentee ballot anyway, just to be sure you get one? If you want to vote in-person Nov. 3, will there be enough polling places to avoid the long lines seen in the June primary? Where (and when) can mail-in ballots be dropped off in person? Because volunteers at polling places often are retirees, and therefore at the most risk for COVID-19, will there be enough volunteers available? Will your mail-in ballot be sent to your correct address? How can you be sure?
Heather Carmen, assistant registrar at the Washoe County Registrar of Voters Office, has answers. Both the polling place and ballot drop-off locations have been announced and the information is available online, with both links and the list itself included below. Candidate profiles, registration forms and instructions about how to volunteer to help out at polling places also are a click away.
Here’s a guide to voting in the November general election:
All Nevada’s active voters will receive ballots
In response to the health concerns of the pandemic, Nevada counties will be sending ballots to all active voters, with the majority of Washoe County’s ballots going out on Oct. 2. The remainder of the ballots will be mailed as voters register or update their registration information.
They can be mailed back as soon as they are received or dropped off at secure locations throughout the county. In Washoe County, 16 sites are available for dropping off ballots and an additional 15 secure locations are available for both depositing completed ballots or for in-person early voting. A list of all the locations and their hours of operation can be found on the registrar’s web site. The list also is reproduced at the end of this story.
Lots of posts on social media have been advising people to apply for an absentee ballot just to be sure they will get one. But is that necessary? And will it just make more work for harried election officials?
Carmen said Nevada doesn’t require an excuse to receive an absentee ballot and anyone can request one. But if you haven’t recently changed your address, have voted in the last two consecutive general elections and/or have been receiving mail from the registrar’s office at your current address, your registration probably is active. People in some situations may need an absentee ballot, however.
“If you want your ballot to go to a different address, but you don’t want to change your address permanently, you can submit an absentee ballot request form to make sure your 2020 ballot gets mailed to the right place,” Carmen said. “Election mail is not forwarded, so it’s in the best interest of the voter to confirm their information with us to make sure they are listed as active and not inactive.”
Voters advised to check their registration information
Not sure if you are registered or if the registrar has your correct address? Voters may check their registrations online to confirm their address and other information is accurate. College students have a choice where they would like to vote in the federal election, but must be registered in the county where they want to cast their votes.
“On the (absentee ballot) form, voters can sign up for permanent absentee ballot status as well,” Carmen said. “Sometimes that’s the way we find out that the individual has moved.”
In the June primary, Clark County reported that more than 200,000 mail-in ballots were returned to the county as undeliverable. In Washoe County, about 28,000 ballots were returned out of the 290,000 sent out. Carmen said Clark County sent ballots to both active and inactive voters, but Washoe only mailed ballots to voters listed as “active.” During the last two months, she said, her office has been working to update the addresses of any of those individuals who may still live in the county.
Mail voting has no history of widespread fraud
Belt-and-suspenders-type voters may be tempted to request absentee ballots even after verifying that the county lists them as active and living at their current address. Will that allow them vote twice? Will dealing with so many extra ballot requests clog an already overburdened system?
“The volume we can handle,” Carmen said. “Things are picking up quite exponentially and we’ve got people here to handle it. (Sending out extra ballots) shouldn’t be a problem.”
And, no, getting two mail-in ballots doesn’t mean you can vote twice. That’s felony fraud. One person, one vote is the law, and attempts at double-dipping are detected and investigated. In 2018, the state found no credible evidence of voter fraud in the 2018 midterm elections.
In July, a Pima County, Ariz. Grand Jury indicted a Tucson man on felony charges of fraud and perjury for allegedly voting in both Arizona and in Washoe County in the 2016 General Election. This month, the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office closed an investigation into six people who voted twice during the June primary election after finding that they did not intentionally cast two ballots. They apparently mailed in ballots during the early voting period and then voted again on Election Day after forgetting they had already voted.
President Donald Trump and other politicians have been attacking universal mail-in voting as being more vulnerable to fraud than absentee ballots. There’s no evidence of that. When the Legislature earlier this month passed a bill authorizing mail-in voting in the General Election, the Nevada Secretary of State’s office released a statement explaining that there is essentially no difference between absentee and mail-in voting.
“An absentee ballot is affirmatively requested by the voter, while a mail ballot is automatically sent to the voter without the voter requesting it. That is the only difference. Everything else is the same, including the signature verification and tabulation processes that occur after the voter returns the absentee or mail ballot.”— Nevada Secretary of State Barbara K. Cegavske, a Republican.
The Nevada Secretary of State also offers online voter registration. The system can be used to register to vote or update existing Nevada voter registration information. A current, valid driver’s license or identification card issued by the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles is required. Residents who are eligible to vote but who don’t have a Nevada driver’s license or ID card may register in person at their county election office. They may also mail in an application to register or to update existing voter registration information. An on-line application can be downloaded from the site.
Registration for the Nov. 3 election
Candidates, drop-box locations, polling places
The Northern Nevada League of Women Voters is part of the national League’s Vote411.org Voter Guide Program. The app offers individual voters’ guides based on users’ addresses. The LWG guide lists races and candidates, allows voters to compare candidates’ positions side-by-side. The user may then print out a completed “ballot” that can be taken to the polls (or used as a reminder for filling out a mail-in ballot) on Election Day. The majority of Washoe County’s ballots will be mailed out Oct. 2.
The Nevada Secretary of State’s Office has information about the statewide ballot issues on its website.
A call for volunteers to help at polls
Volunteers are needed to help at polling places every year, but 2020 presents new challenges. Poll workers are often retired people and older individuals, the same people who match the profile of those at greater risk of contracting serious or even fatal cases of COVID-19.
“We have a pool of volunteers and some of our workers won’t be returning because their doctors have advised against it. So we are looking for younger people to be volunteers. We are taking very serious precautions at our polling places. We’ll have enough PPE (personal protection equipment) for all of them and we’ll be making sure there will be social distancing and that the polling places are in compliance with the regulations of 50% capacity. We are making sure we have all those precautions in place.”— Heather Carmen, assistant registrar of voters for Washoe County.
Poll workers always needed, Carmen said, but this year they will have to come from a pool of people who haven’t been involved previously. She encouraged those interested to go to the registrar’s website and click on the “get involved” button to review the various positions available and their qualifications.
“We not only need the usual election workers and managers, but we need people to check the voters in, greeters to make sure there’s social distancing, and equipment monitors to wipe down the equipment between users,” she said. In addition, there has to be backup teams of volunteers on call, in case a team at a polling place has to be replaced on short notice. Nevada allows high school students to serve as poll workers on Election Day. The program gives students hands-on experience with the voting process.
Early voting locations and hours of operation.
Usually, Washoe County has 90 polling places, but on Election Day just 28 will be open. Yet, with all the extra requirements relating to COVID-19, the county will still require “bare minimum” of 500 volunteers. “It’s going to be interesting,” Carmen said. “I encourage people to apply and help us out.”
The Registrar of Voters also has launched an Adopt a Polling Place program for the 2020 Elections. The registrar is partnering with local businesses, non-profit organizations, schools, civic or other community groups to Adopt a Polling Place and serve as Election Day poll workers.
“Obviously there are a lot fewer polling places than in a normal election, but we’ll have extended hours for early voting; normal hours were 10 (a.m.) to 6 (p.m.) on most days, but now the hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for all days,” Carmen said. “We’re doing the best we can with what we have.”