Democracy is a chaotic endeavor. Nevada lawmakers have made it more so.
Expect long lines and delayed results come the next Election Day.
Assembly Bill 345, which passed on a party line vote with Democrats favoring and Republicans opposed, will allow people to register to vote on the same day of an election rather than several weeks earlier. This will inevitably mean much longer lines on Election Day and during early voting and require as much as 10 days for election results to be tabulated, because votes cast on Election Day and absentee ballots mailed on Election Day will have to be counted and verified.
It will also cost millions of dollars to implement and might not be fully rolled out in time for the 2020 elections, officials warned. It will require hiring thousands more poll workers. Lawmakers were undeterred by the merely impossible.
Wayne Thorley, deputy Nevada secretary of state in charge of elections, warned lawmakers implementing the changes in time for the 2020 election would be “extremely difficult if not impossible,” because it takes two years to make such changes, according to a Las Vegas newspaper account.
Only 17 states and the District of Columbia now have same-day registration.
One argument for this scheme is that it will greatly increase participation in the democratic process. An argument against it is that it will greatly increase participation by the lazy and the uninformed. Another argument is that same-day voter registration is susceptible to voter fraud.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, calls same-day voter registration a prescription for fraud and says it does almost nothing to increase voter participation.
“Allowing a voter to both register and vote on Election Day makes it nearly impossible to prevent duplicate votes in different areas or to verify the accuracy of any information provided by a voter,” von Spakovsky writes.
Further, the new law actually eliminates requirements for informing the public prior to elections. Existing law requires clerks to publish in a newspaper of general circulation the names of candidates and the offices they are seeking. AB345 removes that requirement.
Current law also requires publication of any statewide ballot measure along with an explanation, as well as arguments, rebuttals and fiscal notes. AB345 removes that requirement.
The Nevada Appeal newspaper in Carson City recently published a story quoting public officials as reaffirming the potential problems with the changes in election law.
Carson City Clerk Recorder Aubrey Rowlatt said that in smaller counties, where voters are used to getting to a voting machine within minutes of arrival at the polls and having final results within two hours of the polls closing, the lines will be longer and the results delayed for days.
“There are going to be lines,” she said. “There are going to be late election results.”
Thorley repeated to the newspaper the issues he had raised earlier before lawmakers. “The biggest concern is the delay in election results and educating the public about that,” he told the newspaper.
He warned that changes between election night counts and the final counts more than a week later can lead to accusations of fraud.
Thorley noted, “AB345 allows absentee ballots to be counted after election day so any ballot postmarked by election day but received up to seven days after the election will be counted.”
He also said election officials will have to confirm that people don’t go hopping from county to county registering to vote.
Thorley said the Legislature gave him about a half-million dollars to hire three staffers to set up a process for verifying voter registrations electronically, because doing so by hand would be impossible.
The story ends with Thorley saying he tried to convince lawmakers to give him until the 2022 elections to implement the new law, but Democratic leaders said they wanted it in place by 2020 because of the importance of that election, which is a presidential one. Democrats will stop at nothing in their quest to oust President Trump.
“We will make it work,” Rowlatt was quoted as saying. “It’s just going to be painful so I would just ask for a lot of patience because it’s not going to be fast.”
Remember which lawmakers voted for those long lines come Election Day, as you inch your way toward the voting booth, knowing you may not learn of the outcome for another week to 10 days.
Democracy need not be this chaotic just to make it more convenient for laggards to vote for Democrats.
A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.