In an election where margins are razor thin, Nevada could play a pivotal role in deciding who will be president of the United States. But observers warn that many mail-in ballots could be left out of the final count.
According to Heather Carmen, Assistant Registrar of Voters for Washoe County, ballots are most often challenged by officials when the voter’s signature doesn’t match the one on file — or if the ballot was never signed to begin with.
Carmen says if that happens, voters have until Nov. 12 to fix the problem.
“If there is a signature issue, we’ve challenged it for either missing a signature or miscompares,” she explained, “We will send them a letter with three different options on how to, what we call ‘cure’ it.”
Curing a ballot just means a voter has to prove their identity to confirm it’s really their vote. Washoe County residents can do that by mailing in a copy of their ID, sending a picture of it with their smartphone, or calling the registrar’s office to verify their identity.
Ballots can also be held up if a voter uses the wrong envelope — or if they forget to send it back in the first place.
“Some people actually forget to put their ballot in the envelope and so we also have to reach out to them for that, as well,” Carmen said.
Kim Alexander with the California Voter Foundation (CVF) says the trend of more states sending mail-in ballots by default — as Nevada did to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 — is a two-way street.
“Voting by mail is a great convenience for voters, but it also shifts responsibility for getting it right when we vote from poll workers to voters,” she said.
Alexander says the challenges begin with sending back a mail-in ballot in time to meet the deadline.
“You can’t just put it in a mailbox on Election Day and cross your fingers,” she said. “I’ve already seen hundreds of ballots that are postmarked Nov. 4 and are not going to get counted. That’s going on all over the country.”
And the process doesn’t impact everyone equally, either. In a September report, the CVF found that younger voters were three times more likely to have their ballots rejected in Sacramento, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
First time voters were also more likely to have their votes rejected.
“People who are older and more experienced with voting, more used to making signatures and using the post office, they have an easier time with casting vote-by-mail ballots,” Alexander said. “I think that’s true everywhere, it’s not just California voters.”
Nevadans who voted with a mail-in ballot can check the Secretary of State’s website to see whether their ballot has been received.
In Clark County, Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria said Friday that the final status of each vote won’t be recorded until the results are certified following the Canvass of the Vote on Nov. 16.
“Vote history will not be posted until after the Canvass,” he said. “So if you’re looking on the Secretary of State’s site to see if your vote was posted as voted, you will not see that information.”
The same is true in Washoe County, where voters using the state portal or the third-party software BallotTrax won’t see whether their vote has been recorded until election officials have certified all the returns.
Instead, Alexander encourages voters to call their local registrar to check the status of their ballot. A spokesperson for Washoe County confirmed that voters who submitted their ballot by mail can check its status over the phone.
Clark County officials estimate they’ll finish counting mail-in ballots by Sunday. In the meantime, volunteers have been going door-to-door to encourage voters whose ballots were challenged to follow up — something Assistant Registrar Heather Carmen welcomes, even though she’s never seen it before.
“That was something new, that the parties or other organizations took upon themselves to reach out to the voters, which is helpful,” she said.
Voters in Washoe County can call the Registrar’s office at (775) 328-3670 to check the status of their ballot.
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