Nevada lawmakers poised for showdown on voting reform bill

Measure would make universal mail-in ballots permanent

By: - April 1, 2021 6:06 am

As other states are restricting voting access, Nevada lawmakers in 2021 moved to expand it, chiefly by passing a law to make mail-in voting permanent.(Nevada Current file photo)

There’s nothing partisan about universal voting by mail. While Nevada voters cast a record number of ballots in 2020, legislative Democrats who spearheaded the measure to mail ballots to all voters lost three seats.

“We did it not because it benefitted the Democratic Party. We did it because it’s the right thing to do,” Assembly Speaker Jason Fierson declared at a news conference Wednesday, where he laid out plans to make universal mailed ballots permanent.

“This isn’t a trip to Costco. It’s a constitutional right,” Frierson said, noting seniors shouldn’t have to stand in line for hours to vote.

With partisan wounds still raw from November, Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus, a Republican, said in a statement Wednesday the bill “will further degrade the fragile civic trust shared between the three million people that call Nevada home, and will drive us further apart in our alarmingly divergent nation.”

“AB321 is another party-line bill meant to make AB4 permanent,” Titus said, calling it part of “a partisan playbook being imposed on us as the progressive proof-of-concept model of the west coast.”

“Clark County mailed out 1.3 million ballots for its primary election but 1 in 5 were never delivered. And it is a fact that at least a couple deceased voters had votes cast in their name,” Titus said.

Assembly Bill 321 contains many of the same provisions as Assembly Bill 4, the pandemic response measure passed in a 2020 special session that ordered ballots be mailed to all registered voters with prepaid return postage.

The measure also allowed for the collection of ballots, a provision included in the current bill.

Titus calls the practice “legalized ballot harvesting.”

“There was no systemic fraud,” Frierson said, adding the 2020 election was the most successful in state history.

A record 1.4 million Nevadans — 77.26 percent of the states 1.8 million registered voters — cast ballots in the 2020 general election — 690,548 by mail.

“Make no mistake. The elections were held safely and securely” while allowing voters to cast ballots from the comfort of their homes, Frierson said.

AB 321, which will be heard for the first time Thursday, also includes an expansion of signature verification measures, according to Frierson, including requirements that first-time voters casting mail ballots submit copies of identification and proof of residency, such as a utility bill.

The bill requires the state to reconcile deaths with the Bureau of Vital Statistics on a monthly basis, in response to allegations that some ballots were sent to the dead.

Titus hailed that provision but says the measure lacks a “mandated removal process from rolls to fix the problem. I personally had loved ones deliver deceased patients ballots to me.”

The initial hearing on AB 321 comes as the U.S. Senate prepares to take up H.R. 1, also known as the For the People Act.  The measure was passed by the House in March.

The 800-page bill contains provisions for a non-partisan redistricting commission, transparency regulations for political advertising, and automatic voter registration on a national level.

Bruised by rebuffed legal challenges of the 2020 election, Republicans are shifting  their focus from courts to state capitals in an effort to restrict voting rights. Last week, Georgia’s governor signed a measure that requires absentee voters to prove their identity, limits access to the polls, and makes it illegal to provide water to voters waiting in line.

As lawmakers in some states move to tighten voting laws, Nevada legislators are seeking to build upon recent success enacting major reforms.

A 2017 measure allowed 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, which resulted in a surge of young voters, according to Emily Persaud-Zamora of Let Nevadans Vote.

Lawmakers enacted automatic voter registration via the Department of Motor Vehicles in 2019.

The same year, Assembly Bill 431 restored voting rights for certain felons who had completed their imprisonment, parole or probation.

In addition to AB 321, reform measures on the legislative agenda this session include AB 121, which would enact protections for voters with disabilities, and AB 126, which would change Nevada from a presidential caucus to primary state.

“The vote is the most powerful tool we have in democracy,” Frierson said. “Nevada is a proud leader on this issue.”

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.

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