Nevada Primary voters talk about the new voting machines and the importance of participating in our democracy. Reno Gazette Journal
In-person voters can still hand in ballots at the Washoe County Registrar’s office
After months of partisan mudslinging, and no shortage of lawsuits, Nevada’s first vote-by-mail primary will go ahead as planned on Tuesday — the last day voters can send in or drop off ballots with county elections officials.
Almost 343,000 Silver State residents, around 21 percent of the state’s active voters, have already mailed in their picks for dozens of federal, state and local offices.
Early turnout has been slightly higher in Washoe County, where more than 64,000 residents either mailed in a ballot or turned up at one of the “extremely limited” in-person polling places state officials have kept open during the coronavirus outbreak.
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County Registrar of Voters Deanna Spikula doesn’t expect those numbers to change much after polls close on Tuesday, but said she was pleasantly surprised to see interest in the election exceed the 20 percent turnout normally seen in primaries.
“The returns were looking stronger, but they’ve leveled off a bit,” Spikula said during a Monday morning conference call with reporters. “It’s probably going to be closer to average (turnout) than I anticipated in the beginning.”
Late last week, Spikula said county elections officials had already opened and started processing about 10,000 ballots received from voters. Fewer than five were flagged as potentially fraudulent, she said, while only “a handful” were returned damaged.
Washoe’s lone in-person polling place, located in Spikula’s office at 1001 East Ninth St., will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Returns tallied in the county will help decide three contested Nevada Assembly races, two state Supreme Court seats and a Democratic challenger set to face Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei in November. Dozens of local offices are also up for grabs, among them a hotly contested Ward 1 City Council seat in Reno.
But don’t expect to learn the winner of each of those races on Tuesday night.
Officials predict it may take up to 10 days to finalize results from the state’s first-ever mostly mail election. They say the state’s sudden, COVID-caused shift away from in-person voting left election workers with a lot of extra work that’s usually conducted at polling places, such as verifying voter signatures and scanning ballot barcodes.
Wayne Thorley, Nevada’s deputy secretary of state for elections, last month explained it will simply take “much more time to tabulate mail and absentee ballots.”
The state Legislature last year passed a law allowing same-day registration at in-person polling locations. Officials have complied with that statute by permitting registrations at least one in-person polling location in each county.
Such concessions didn’t come close to satisfying attorneys representing either major political party, both of which have filed suit to block the mail-in voting plan.
Democrats struck first, arguing in an April court filing that the effort could unconstitutionally limit voters’ access to the polls. Republican groups quickly piled on, submitting a flurry of legal filings that contend the mail-in primary system makes election results more vulnerable to fraud.
A federal judge in Reno has put off any decisions about the legality of the mail-in primary until next month, meaning any future rulings on the constitutionality of the format will not take effect until November’s general election. Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske has said the state will revert back to an in-person voting format for that election.
Primary election polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday. Early results are expected shortly after polls close at 7 p.m. Check back here for updates.
Elections officials have said they will count every vote postmarked by June 9. More information on marking, signing and returning mail-in ballots is available on the county Registrar of Voters’ website and at nvsos.gov.
James DeHaven is the politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal. He covers campaigns, the Nevada Legislature and everything in between. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.
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