Ballots arrive: and so it begins

updated voters' guide: tracking ballots, drop-off sites, polling places

IMAGE/WASHOE COUNTY REGISTRAR: Mail-in ballots are scheduled to arrive in local mailboxes the week of Oct.5.

Election Day dawns in Nevada nearly a month early this year and continues daily until Nov. 3.

There are several ways to vote: mailing a ballot; dropping it off in secure containers; in-person early voting beginning Oct. 16; or voting in-person on Nov. 3 at one of 29 Washoe County polling places. 

The week of Oct. 5, mail-in ballots should be delivered to all active Washoe County registered voters. The ballots may be filled out immediately and mailed in the envelope supplied, dropped off at one of 16  secure sites throughout the county and an additional 15 locations available for both depositing completed ballots or for in-person early voting from Oct. 16 to 30. A list of all the locations and their hours of operation can be found on the Washoe County Registrar of Voters web site.

Voting site locations also are listed at the end of this story.

Registered voters who have not received a ballot by Tuesday, Oct. 13, should contact the registrar. Voters may verify they are listed as “active” and that their address is current by using the voter search feature on the Nevada Secretary of State’s website. 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.

Voters can track ballots’ trip to registrar

A large number of voters are expected to cast ballots by mail to avoid exposing themselves to an increased risk of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people may be worried about the security of mail-in voting, so the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office offers this online tracking tool that allows voters to follow their ballot’s journey to the registrar’s office the way any parcel can be traced from mailing to delivery.

To use the tool, a voter is instructed to provide his or her first and last name, date of birth and ZIP code. The service is free and voters can sign up in advance of mailing their ballot. They may set the tracker to send alerts about the status of their ballots by voice call, text, email, or any combination of those methods.

 “Voters are used to buying something online and then tracking the package from the retail outlet to their doorstep. We can now offer this same service, and the peace of mind that comes with it, to voters who vote by mail,” said Wayne Thorley, Nevada deputy secretary of state for elections.

Take care filling out mail-in ballots

The registrar offers advice on properly filling out mail-in ballots so that all those votes are counted: use a black or blue ink pen, but do not use felt tip pins or permanent markers; mark choices by completely  filling in the oval to the right of each ballot choice; and it’s OK to leave some ovals blank, but if more than one choice is marked in a single contest, no vote will be counted for that contest (but the rest of the  correctly-marked ballot will be counted).

Washoe County mail-in ballot.

Voters who make a mistake or change their minds may “put a single line through the name of the candidate or question you do not wish to vote for and completely fill in the oval to the right of the candidate or question you do want to vote for,” according to the registrar.

Pay close attention to instructions about detaching the ballot stubs, folding the ballot and placing it within the “secrecy sleeve.” The sleeve, with the completed ballot inside, is then inserted into the return envelope. Importantly, the return envelope must be signed in the signature box under the envelope’s flap. Once signed, the voter should moisten the flap and seal the envelope. The flap covers the signature and protects a voter’s privacy.

Ballots lacking a signature on the signature line (under the flap on the back of the return envelope) will be declared invalid and will not be counted. The signatures are used to verify the identity of the voter.

Mail-in, drop-off, in-person options offered

Anyone may deliver a completed ballot on behalf of any voter.  Completed ballots may be returned by mail, dropped off at one of the county’s drop-off locations or vote centers during early voting or dropped off at polling places or secure sites on Election Day. Completed ballots also may be dropped off at the Registrar of Voters Office in the Washoe County Administration Complex, at 9th Street and Wells Avenue, Building A, Room 135.  Ballots cannot be faxed or e-mailed.

Voters who tear, deface or lose their ballots may call the registrar at (775) 328-3670 to get a replacement.

On Nov. 3, 29 polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for in-person voting or ballot drop off. In addition, 16 additional ballot drop-off locations will be open Election Day. The Washoe County registrar has a map available on its website showing estimated wait times for in-person early voting locations (after Oct. 16) and for the individual polling places Nov. 3.

The Regional Transportation Commission is offering free rides to polling places on Election Day.

Candidate information available online

A list of candidates, from the presidential race to state and local races, can be found here. Profiles of the state-wide and local candidates on the Washoe County ballot are available here

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, allow 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 Nevada Secretary of State’s Office has information about the statewide ballot issues on its website.

Volunteers needed 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 folks who match the profile of those at greater risk of contracting serious cases of COVID-19.

For ways to get involved in this year’s General Election, the registrar has information about positions available, qualifications and other details on its website.

“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… Nevada allows high school students to serve as poll workers on Election Day.  The program gives students hands-on experience with the voting process.”  Heather Carmen, assistant registrar of voters for Washoe County.

Heather Carmen, assistant registrar of voters for Washoe County.

Fears of voter fraud are unfounded

Those who may have requested an absentee ballot and also get the separate mail-in ballot should fill out one only. One person, one vote is the law, and attempts at double-dipping are detected and investigated as felony fraud. After the June primary election in which Nevada voters also automatically received mail-in ballots, six people were found to have voted twice, once in person and once by mail. The Nevada Secretary of State’s Office closed an investigation into those voters in August after concluding they didn’t intentionally break the law, but instead forgot they had voted earlier.

In 2018, the state found no credible evidence of voter fraud in the 2018 Nevada 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.

While some politicians have been assailing mail-in voting as somehow more vulnerable to fraud than absentee ballots, the two are essentially the same thing. “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,” said Nevada Secretary of State Barbara K. Cegavske.

Her office has an election “fact vs. myths” page on its website.

List of Washoe County early voting sites

List of ballot drop-off sites only

Hours of operation, drop-off sites and early voting

Locations open on Election Day, in-person or drop-off

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