CARSON CITY, Nev. – Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed legislation Monday to mail all of the state's active voters ballots ahead of the November election, a move being criticized by President Donald Trump, who promised a lawsuit to block the action.
“This bill will enable election officials to continue to support the safest, most accessible election possible under these unprecedented circumstances,” Sisolak, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Nevada joins seven states that plan to automatically send voters mail ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic, including California and Vermont, which moved earlier this summer to adopt automatic mail ballot policies.
The plan drew criticism from Trump after making its way through the Legislature over the weekend. The president has long claimed that mail ballots would compromise the integrity of the election, but the consensus among experts is that all forms of voter fraud are rare.
At a Monday press conference, Trump said that he planned to file a lawsuit against Nevada as early as Tuesday. He called universal mail ballots a disgrace and said they would be a great embarrassment to the United States.
He took aim at a provision that expands who can collect and return ballots, which he said enabled individuals to “take thousands of ballots, put them together and just dump them down on somebody’s desk after a certain period of time.”
He also targeted the provision that allows ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted up to a week later could create a circumstance where the race couldn't be called in a timely manner.
"You’ll never know who won that state," he said.
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid applauded the lawmakers' decision and called Trump's opposition desperate.
“He’s lying about our state leaders and threatening a bogus lawsuit simply because Democrats made it easier for people to vote," Reid said in a statement.
Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske told lawmakers Friday that she wasn’t aware of any fraud in the June primary, when the state mailed all active voters absentee ballots and only opened a limited number of polling places to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Limited polling places in Reno and Las Vegas resulted in lines of up to eight hours.
In the June primary, all counties had one polling place except for Clark County, which had three in the Las Vegas area. The bill requires at least 140 polling places throughout the state in November, including 100 in Clark County, which had 179 in the November 2018 election.
Christine Saunders of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada said the long waits in the June primary demonstrated why the state needs both mail and in-person voting opportunities.
“No one should have to choose between their health and voting,” she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued election guidance to provide a variety of voting options and limit crowds at polling places.
In states such as Colorado and Oregon, which have mailed all voters ballots for years, the procedure is cheaper than holding an in-person election, officials said.
But Cegavske said the equipment, education, printing and postage would cost the state an additional $3 million, not including costs to counties, which distribute and tabulate ballots.
Nevada spent more than $4 million in federal relief money in the June primary, most of it funneled to counties. More than $1 million went toward leasing counting and sorting machines to accommodate a greater number of absentee ballots.
Cegavske, the state’s top election official and only Republican to hold statewide office, opposed the revised procedures. She blasted the Democratic-controlled Legislature for excluding her from discussions and said she saw a draft of the bill only a day before the vote in the state Assembly.
“We were not involved in this bill’s writing at all,” she said Friday.
The bill gives the governor the power to command the secretary of state to adjust election procedures during a declared state of emergency. It passed on a party-line vote through both the state Senate and Assembly, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.
Republicans were particularly distressed with provisions that expand who is allowed to collect and hand in ballots. They and Trump say it enables a practice detractors call “ballot harvesting,” in which volunteers working for political groups collect and turn in large quantities of ballots to tip the scales in elections.
Democrats argued allowing people other than family members to return ballots would help groups like members of Nevada’s 32 Native American tribes, who have historically faced difficulty voting and live far form polling places, and seniors who may need assistance with voting and fear venturing to the polls.
For the June primary, all voters were mailed ballots and 1.6% voted in-person on election day, a tiny share compared to the 34.2% in the state who voted in-person in the November 2018 election.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.
AP writer Zeke Miller contributed reporting from Washington.