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STEVE SEBELIUS: There should be no roadblocks to voting

Every single eligible voter should register and cast a ballot in every election.

And the state’s laws should make it as easy as possible for every one of those voters to do it.

These are relatively uncontroversial statements, but you’d be surprised at how much disagreement you might find.

Honest-if-cynical partisans will confess they don’t want every voter to turn out, just the ones who will support their candidate. Old schoolers who believe voting is a patriotic duty (it is) think that having to endure some inconvenience isn’t too much to ask when exercising the franchise.

They are among those who will likely oppose Assembly Bill 321, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson’s omnibus elections legislation. It would make permanent the pandemic-era universal mail voting, among other things.

We have to acknowledge upfront that this bill represents a fundamental shift in Nevada’s approach to elections. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were encouraged to stay away from one another and avoid public gatherings, voting by mail was a smart way to stay safe while ensuring Nevadans could exercise their fundamental voting rights.

But now, with new cases, positive tests and hospitalizations falling and the vaccine rolling out to virtually the entire adult population, there’s no longer an imminent threat that requires us to consider mail voting. Now, if we do it, it’s a policy choice.

There’s certainly good reasons for it. Other states, including Oregon, Washington and California, have done it successfully. Nevada’s mostly mail 2020 general election saw the fourth-highest voter turnout in the past 20 years. And it does further the goal of making it easier for voters to cast their ballots.

Yet the plan is sure to encounter opposition from Republicans, some of whom have sponsored a bill to repeal the pandemic-era emergency voting laws, much less embrace mail voting as the new Nevada default.

Some of that opposition springs from unproven allegations that the 2020 election was beset by voter fraud, allegations denied by Nevada’s Republican secretary of state and that never found purchase in any courtroom anywhere in the state. (And not for lack of trying.) Instead, Republicans are proposing reforms of their own.

Most pernicious are a pair of bills that would require any voter who is challenged at the polls to present government-issued photo identification to prove her or his identity. It’s not hard to imagine how that provision could easily be abused to hinder the rights of legitimate voters, nor to wonder against whom those challenges might most frequently be levied. In a Legislature controlled by Democrats under a Democratic governor, those provisions are dead on arrival.

But that doesn’t mean all the Republican ideas are without merit. Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, for example, has a bill that would allow voters to request that poll workers check their photo IDs at the polls to prevent some fraudster from voting in their name. It’s entirely voluntary, and although in-person voting-in-the-name-of-another fraud is extremely rare, this bill would prevent it.

Another bill, sponsored by a group of Assembly Republicans, would require periodic audits of the job performance of election workers who are responsible for matching voter signatures on mail ballots. That could give voters more confidence that those workers — who receive special training for that duty — are doing their jobs.

And Frierson’s bill contains some reforms that Republicans might like. Voters can opt out of getting a mail ballot if they prefer to vote in person. Deadlines are tightened for when mail ballots must be received in elections offices and for fixing ballots that were unsigned or bear a mismatched signature. Machines that verify signatures must be audited daily during elections. And the secretary of state must coordinate with the state’s vital statistics department so that deceased voters can be taken off the voting rolls.

Further reforms are certainly necessary. Voters rolls need to be maintained to avoid duplicate ballots sent to the same person with slightly different variations on their name. Deceased voters should be taken off the rolls immediately. Former Secretary of State-turned-Clark County Commissioner Ross Miller’s idea to match driver’s license pictures with poll books is still a viable proposal.

But government policy should never be made because of superstitions, fears or unproven allegations made for nefarious political purposes. Instead, elections should be run with the idea that we should make it as easy as possible for every single eligible voter to participate.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com

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