The 2020 presidential election was historic for many reasons, among them, the special safety measures that state election administrators had to suddenly implement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its effort to ensure voter safety in the 2020 election process, the Nevada legislature passed a law that would require all counties to mail absentee ballots to registered voters during emergency situations. The law aimed to make it easier for Nevadans to vote without having to physically go to the polls. The law also provided some procedural flexibilities in that it permitted the collection of mail-in ballots by third party collectors.
The Trump campaign tried to block the Nevada voting measure in court arguing that the law is unconstitutional and gives rise to an equal protection violation because it does not provide a uniform standard that would apply across counties. The challenge was promptly dismissed on the ground that the Trump campaign failed to show any constitutional harms. Fast forward to December 2020, the Trump campaign declared Nevada’s race, as well as many other states’ races, illegitimate due to alleged widespread fraud and irregularities. Notwithstanding the Trump camp’s allegations of rampant voter fraud, the Nevada race turned out to be one of the most successful election seasons in Nevada’s history.
Despite a nationwide push to restrict access to the polls post 2020 election and the flurry of voting-restrictive GOP-led state laws, Nevada took a different course of action. In June 2021, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed five election-related bills, three of which aimed to expand voting in the state and to permanently implement the measures that were temporarily put in place during the pandemic.
AB321 permanently expands the mail-in voting measures that were adopted during the pandemic. The bill requires that every eligible voter be sent an absentee ballot, unless the voter explicitly opts-out of receiving a mail-in ballot. The bill does not eliminate other forms of voting, meaning voters still have the option to vote in person if they choose to do so. Proponents of this bill claim that this law will make voting easier and more convenient for voters across the state. However, Nevada’s Republican legislators opposed the bill, holding on to the notion that mail-in voting produces fraud and ultimately undermines elections.
A second bill, AB432, was passed to expand automatic voter registration to many state agencies including, but not limited to, the DMV, the Department of Health and Human Services, and any agency that is designated to receive applications for Medicaid. Additionally, in an effort to protect voters with disabilities, AB121 makes voting more accessible to people with disabilities by allowing them to use an electronic system has been used by US military members and Americans living overseas. The bills present a clear effort by the legislature to enhance accessibility to the polls.
The expansion of mail-in voting was inspired by the record voter participation in the 2020 election, where a total of 1.4 million Nevadans cast their votes, 48 percent of whom voted by absentee ballots. Despite Nevada success in the 2020 election, the bills did not garner bipartisan support, rather they were passed on strict party lines.