The act of physically going to a polling location and casting my vote in-person has always given me a feeling of satisfaction that I am participating in the election process.
I think it’s because to be physically present to cast your ballot, you have to make time in your schedule to go to your polling location. You have to present your ID and have your signature verified that you are who you say you are. You are also going to a polling location where voters of all political parties are doing what you are doing, participating in the very American process of electing individuals to represent our personal views and ideals.
The physical act of voting in-person on election day has changed over time. To reduce long lines at polling locations for voters, many areas have opened up early voting. Even though it’s not quite the same experience as voting on the actual election day, you still go to your polling location and follow the same procedure, ensuring that your vote is counted and that you are not fraudulent.
Absentee mail-in voting has increased steadily over the last several elections, primarily pushed by the Democratic party. The Democrats argue that all eligible voters should be able to vote by mail. The Republicans counter that mail-in voting leads to voter fraud. This divide along party lines centers on one key election factor: voter turnout.
An old truism holds that all other things held equal, a smaller pool of voters tends to be better for Republicans, and the larger the pool gets, the better for Democrats.
This truism isn’t mathematically ironclad, as politicians learn and relearn regularly. But this assumption is the foundation upon which much else is built.
Another hypothesis is that loyal Trump supporters will always show up to physically vote while Democratic voters are less intense about voting in-person. By making the process as easy as possible, Democrats hope to increase voter turnout and, in turn, their chances for Democratic candidates to be elected.
The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed the Democrats to push the mail-in ballot agenda further. On Sunday, led by the Democrats, the State Legislature passed a controversial revamp of political contests conducted in an emergency. Nevada will stick to a mostly vote-by-mail election format in November. Approval of Assembly Bill 4, one of the top items on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s special session agenda, comes after a mostly mail-in June primary election.
“This bill will help prevent Nevadans from experiencing the long lines at polling locations they faced during the primary election, which will protect their safety, safeguard their right to make their voices heard, and help reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Sisolak said in a tweet Monday.
Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske had long planned a return to in-person voting after getting mixed reviews of the state’s first vote-by-mail election in June. Nevada’s only Republican statewide officeholder on Friday confirmed she intended to stick to that approach despite a statewide spike in virus cases, explaining she would need a budget bump of up to $5 million to pay for a second all-mail election.
But Democrats, seen as the most likely beneficiary of the switch to a mail-in election, are now positioned to overrule Cegavske thanks to a controversial bill provision that lets the governor, not the state’s top election official, decide how polling places run in an emergency.
There are alternatives to mail-in ballots that were not considered by the Democrats in the special legislative session. Increasing the number of polling locations would cut down on wait times and the number of people waiting to vote in-person. Using the same social distancing and mask protocols that the governor has mandated for businesses to be open could be applied to polling locations.
Will the mail-in ballot measure increase the number of Democrats that vote this year? We won’t know until after the elections, but it seems that Assembly Bill 4 was more about politics than about reacting to pandemic concerns.
Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org