The Washoe County Registrar of Voters had been hoping to send out vote-by-mail ballots in late September. Then, last week, election officials said they pushed the date back to Friday, Oct. 2, because the printing company they use in Washington is facing exceptionally high demand.
Now, just a day before the ballots were scheduled to be sent out to voters, Registrar Deanna Spikula confirmed to reporters during a Thursday press conference that the new date is Oct. 5. She said delays at the county’s printing vendor had pushed the delivery back another three days.
“I had anticipated them to be a little bit sooner,” she said. “This is a general election and all states are having their elections at the same time.”
Spikula also explained the Oct. 5 shipping date falls exactly 30 days before the general election on Nov. 3 — exceeding the statewide requirement to send out ballots 20 days in advance.
According to Heather Carmen, Assistant Registrar of Voters for Washoe County, that’s a long-standing priority.
“In Washoe County, we’ve always sent out, or try to send out, our county ballots 30 days before the election,” she said.
Over the summer, state lawmakers approved Assembly Bill 4, which mandated that every active, registered voter in the state would receive a mail-in ballot — a move they hope will mitigate the risk of COVID-19.
As a result, Nevada is sending more ballots to voters than in any previous election.
Wayne Thorley, the Deputy Secretary of State for Elections, estimates the state will distribute around 1.7 million ballots this year. He says that record high is also due to heightened interest in the presidential race and population growth in recent years, which means more people than ever are registering to vote.
But Thorley also said the number of new registrations isn’t climbing as quickly as it has in the past.
“I think that’s an effect of the ongoing pandemic, which has really reduced in-person voter registration drives,” he said.
Jeremy Gelman is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Reno. Looking ahead to Election Day, he says the new automatic vote-by-mail system will make it more difficult to see whether COVID-19 in particular has lowered turnout.
“You’re having everyone getting a ballot,” he said. “So figuring out actually the electoral effects is going to be really, really hard.”
In September, President Donald Trump attacked Nevada’s largely mail-in election at a campaign rally in rural Minden. During his speech, he repeated baseless claims that voting by mail will lead to widespread electoral fraud.
“The Democrats are trying to rig the election,” he said.
Trump also urged supporters to go to polling places and to observe the election.
“I hope you are all going to be poll-watchers,” he said. “Because with you people watching the polls, it’s going to be pretty hard to cheat.”
Gelman says Trump’s talking points are cause for concern, because they reflect patterns of suppression seen in countries with weaker democracies.
Gelman’s also worried about the potential consequences of sending people who believe the election is rigged to polling places.
“That is a type of rhetoric that may bring people out to the polls who are there to intimidate others,” he said. “We can’t control how others are going to act, but the rhetoric and how these politicians speak matters.”
At the end of the day, Gelman says, voting by mail is a safe, reliable way to vote.
Nevada voters can submit their ballots by mail, at a secure drop-off location or at a polling place on Election Day.
They can find more information on how to vote this year, check their registration status and register to vote at the Secretary of State’s elections page. Information on polling locations and voting procedures can be found on the Washoe County website.
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