A sign reminds voters they need photo ID to vote at polling station in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
A pair of proposed ballot measures filed Friday seeks to undo voting laws implemented by Nevada Democrats in recent years.
North Las Vegas resident David Gibbs has filed two proposed ballot measures with the Nevada Secretary of State. The first proposes to amend the state constitution to require photo identification at physical polling places and voter identification on mail ballots. The second repeals key parts of the 2021 Legislative Session’s Assembly Bill 321, which made vote-by-mail the standard for elections in Nevada.
Gibbs, a Republican who has dubbed the effort and its supporting political action committee “Repair the Vote,” says he sees these issues as nonpartisan. He points to a Monmouth poll in June 2021 that found 80% of Americans support requiring voters to show identification at the polling place and only 18% oppose.
When broken down by political party: 62% of Democrats, 87% of independents and 91% of Republicans nationally support a voter ID requirement.
“This goes across party lines,” says Gibbs.
Election legislation has largely fallen on party lines, however. Historically, but especially in the past year, Republicans across the country have pushed to enact more voting restrictions while Democrats have pushed to expand voter access. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law found that from Jan. 1 to Dec. 7 of 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting voting access.
Two federal voting rights bills — the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act — have stalled in the Senate as Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted with the GOP against changing filibuster rules which would have allowed the legislation to pass by a Senate majority.
Former President Donald Trump continues to dispute, without evidence, his loss to Joe Biden in 2020. The Trump campaign filed numerous lawsuits in Nevada and other swing states alleging “voter irregularities.” No evidence of widespread voter fraud has been found. But prominent Republicans across the country have amped up “election integrity” as a talking point.
Gibbs declined to say whether he believes the results of the 2020 election are valid, saying only that “there were a lot of questions from a lot of people.”
But he did point to a 2020 Clark County Commission race between Democrat Ross Miller and Republican Anthony Stavros, which was decided by just 10 votes initially (and 15 after a recount). The margin of victory in that race was smaller than the number of voter discrepancies reported.
“How did this happen?” asks Gibbs. “We’re trying to design something to stop that.”
He says a voter ID requirement would give people more faith and confidence in the state’s election system.
In 2018, Gibbs lost handily to Crescent Hardy in the Republican primary for Congressional District 4.
“I did not win the primary,” he said, “but I had confidence the election was fairly held and the outcome was the outcome.”
Gibbs’ voter verification proposal would amend the Nevada Constitution to require everyone to present photo identification when voting at an in-person polling place. Among the approved forms of identification are a driver’s license, state-issued ID, passport and “other form of government-issued photo identification that the Legislature may approve.”
Gibbs said that final provision allows for flexibility for the future.
A second section of the proposed amendment would require every voter who casts their ballot via mail to enter either the last four digits of their Nevada driver’s license, the last four digits of their social security number, or a voter ID number that would be assigned to people by the county clerk upon registration.
Gibbs says he knows the proposal will be labeled an attempt at voter restriction or voter suppression, but he doesn’t see it as such.
“Very few people won’t have one or the other,” he said of a driver’s license or social security number. “This does not stop anyone from going to the poll.”
As a proposed constitutional amendment, the voter verification measure would have to be approved on two subsequent general election ballots — first in 2022, then again in 2024.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of September 2021, 17 states require a photo ID and 19 states accept photo or non-photo IDs. Nevada is one of 16 states that uses other means — primarily signatures — to verify voters.
Undoing recent election reforms
For the 2020 primary, Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske approved a rapid switch to an all-mail election, citing logistical issues related to training thousands of poll workers, most of them considered high risk for catching covid due to their age, during a time when group gatherings were severely restricted.
But Cegavske made it clear she would not approve an all-mail election for the 2020 general election, despite local election officials like Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria publicly saying it was the best option.
So Democrats in the Nevada State Legislature passed a bill during a special session and required county clerks to send mail ballots to all active registered voters — but only during a declared state of emergency. The bill also made other changes to election law, including allowing for other people to submit your absentee ballot for you — a practice dubbed “ballot harvesting” by those who oppose it and “ballot collection” by those who support it.
During the 2021 Legislative Session, Democrats made those provisions permanent. They will be in effect for the upcoming June primary.
And later this year, on the general election ballot in November, Nevada voters may get to weigh in on whether they approve of the state’s new voting procedures. In addition to his proposed voter verification constitutional amendment, Gibbs has filed a proposed referendum asking voters to approve or disapprove of some of the provisions of AB321.
Gibbs said he chose to focus only on the all-mail, absentee ballot submission and ballot counting portions of AB321. Other components, which included requiring ballot dropoff boxes and requirements for the minimum number of polling places a county can have, are not being challenged. Gibbs said he supports those changes to election law.
If voters approve the referendum, the voting procedures outlined in AB321 will remain in place and cannot change except by a direct vote of the people. If voters disapprove, the procedures will be annulled and cannot be reinstated without a direct vote of the people.
The referendum only needs to be approved or disapproved once by voters.
Nevada is one of eight states that have embraced all-mail elections as their standard practice, according to NCSL. Additional states give counties or smaller jurisdictions the power to opt-in to all-mail elections.
The Monmouth poll from June 2021 found that 50% of Americans believe voting by mail should be made easier and 39% believe it should be made harder.
Gibbs, an Air Force veteran, is familiar with voting via absentee ballot. Before he and his family settled in Southern Nevada, his military career brought him to 19 different states over 29 years. He says he voted absentee for all general elections and most primaries. He even remembers casting votes in North Las Vegas municipal races while stationed overseas in Iraq in 2009.
“It was not hard to do,” he said. “It’s very easy. … It’s not complicated to vote absentee. Everybody who wants to can. You don’t need an excuse.”
The Current reached out to the Assembly Democratic Caucus for comment on the proposed referendum but did not receive a response.
What happens next
After an initiative or referendum is officially submitted to the Nevada Secretary of State, there begins a 15-day window for legal challenges. Such challenges typically focus on the state’s “single subject” rule, which says measures must focus on a single matter, or the “description of effect” — the wording that appears on ballots explaining what the proposal seeks to do.
Gibbs says he expects legal challenges but isn’t concerned about them.
“We are prepared for it,” he added. “Let’s just say that.”
After any potential legal challenges are settled, petitioners may begin collecting signatures. To qualify for the ballot, petitioners must obtain 140,777 valid signatures from registered Nevada voters, with at least 35,195 signatures coming from each of the state’s four congressional districts. That’s equivalent to 10% of the number of voters who voted during the 2020 general election.
Gibbs says he is in talks with a variety of organizations for both financial and volunteer support, though he declined to name any specific groups.
Signatures must be delivered to their respective counties for verification by June 21.
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