Nevada’s 81st biennial legislative session drew to a frantic close late Monday, with lawmakers voting to approve a crucial infrastructure funding bill less than 10 minutes before a midnight deadline.
Despite the last-minute scramble, Democratic leaders had a good session. Though their party lacked the two-thirds supermajority required to approve new revenue, they managed to pass a slate of election reforms that put Nevada in stark contrast to Republican-led states like Texas and Georgia.
The most consequential change came in the form of Assembly Bill 321 introduced by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D–Las Vegas), which makes the mail-in voting system adopted during the pandemic permanent.
Republicans opposed the bill, which passed both houses of the legislature on party-line votes.
“Make no mistake, universal mail ballots leave the door wide open for doubt and will drive us further apart in our alarmingly divergent nation,” said Assembly Minority Floor Leader Robin Titus (R–Wellington) in a press release.
But Frierson defended the measure as being consistent with the state’s voting culture.
“Nevada’s going in the way of individual freedom, and that’s what we’ve always been about,” he said.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the bill into law June 2, just two days after the session ended.
“I am so proud that Nevada continues to push forward with proven strategies that make voting more accessible and secure,” Sisolak said in a press release.
In addition to sending mail-in ballots to every active registered voter in the state for all elections moving forward, the reform also extends the ability for a voter to authorize someone else to return their ballot for them.
That’s a flashpoint for the state GOP, which calls the practice “ballot harvesting” and says it opens the door to vote rigging. But Nevada’s Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the only Republican currently holding a statewide elected office, has consistently denied accusations that widespread fraud occurred.
The provision is also helpful for Native Americans and rural voters, who sometimes live hours away from their nearest drop box or polling location. Advocates said allowing one member of a household with access to a car to return ballots for other members of their community will enfranchise more of those voters.
Another priority for tribal advocates was expanded opportunities for automatic voter registration (AVR). Voters adopted the system in 2018, but only the DMV was authorized to register voters while they were getting their driver’s license, renewing their registration and other bureaucratic errands.
Under Assembly Bill 432, people can now be registered to vote by the Department of Health and Human Services, Medicaid enrollment offices, the state’s healthcare exchange and tribal governments.
Taylor Patterson, executive director of the Native Voters Alliance, supported the measure. She says the so-called “motor voter” system, run exclusively through the DMV, didn’t do enough to reach Native American voters.
“For low-income people in general, they’re not always interfacing with the DMV,” she said. “But particularly if you have a tribal ID, you’re gonna be like ‘I don’t drive, I’ll just use my tribal ID for that.’”
Now that the tribes can register people who come in to get a new tribal ID or renew their card, Patterson says the AVR system will be able to catch voters who had been slipping through the cracks.
Assembly Speaker Frierson also sponsored a bill that replaces the current presidential caucus with a primary election. Assembly Bill 126 also moves up the date to make Nevada the first state in the nation to hold its nominating contest, jumping ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire, although those states may adopt their own changes to keep their favored spots at the head of the line.
A final reform will centralize the state’s voter rolls, which are traditionally maintained by county-level election officials who then transmit that information to the Secretary of State. Instead, the new top-down approach requires the state to maintain those records.
Taken together, the new election reforms represent a win for progressive activists who have been pushing for expanded access in the state.
Emily Persaud-Zamora is executive director of Silver State Voices, a nonpartisan advocacy group focused on expanding ballot access for underrepresented communities.
“Texas, Georgia, Florida — every state is really rolling back on protections and here in Nevada, we’re saying ‘No, we’re not going to do that,’” she said, referring to a wave of restrictive voting legislation pursued by Republican legislators in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.
In Texas, Democratic lawmakers walked out of the statehouse in a last-ditch effort to stop a vote on a bill that would ban 24-hour vote centers and make it easier for judges to overturn the results of a contested election.
Back in Nevada, the next legislative session won’t take place for another two years, but lawmakers aren’t done in Carson City. They’re likely to return to the statehouse for at least one special session later this year to deal with redistricting, after the official U.S. Census numbers are released by Sept. 30.
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