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Fact-checking a claim that Nevada ranks close to last on election integrity
If Your Time is short
A political ad says that Nevada ranked 50th in “election integrity ratings” with no additional details. The claim is based on only one rating from the Heritage Foundation that reflected concerns about potential voter fraud but did not consider ballot access or voter convenience.
Other groups’ analyses of states’ voting laws or outcomes have given significantly higher marks to Nevada. For example, MIT’s Elections Performance Index, which looks at outcomes such as voter turnout and how long voters wait in line, ranked Nevada 14th in 2018.
Nevada was one of the battleground states where former President Donald Trump spun falsehoods that the 2020 election was rigged and that the state was sending ballots to dogs.
Nevada is now one of many states where Republicans running in 2022 primaries vow to improve election integrity, including Jesse Haw, a former state senator and Reno-based developer who’s running for secretary of state. The candidates are running to replace term-limited Barbara Cegavske.
Haw wants to get rid of Nevada’s system of sending a mail ballot to every voter, add a photo ID requirement for in person voting, and require ID verification such as a driver’s license to vote by mail. Haw says Nevada has a long way to go to improving elections.
"Nevada ranks 50th in election integrity ratings," he said in a Feb. 2 Facebook ad.
We were curious whether Nevada did rank last and how such a ranking would be compiled. While Haw’s statement suggests there were multiple ratings, it is based on one. And it comes from a group with a strict view of election integrity that tends to align with laws Republicans favor.
Haw said his ad was referring to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative organization that in December announced a state-by-state election integrity scorecard. Heritage ranked Nevada 50th, ahead of only Hawaii. (The District of Columbia was included in the ranking). Georgia ranked first.
The scorecard does not champion ease of voting or ballot access. Instead, it opposes expansive voting by mail and rewards tighter election rules such as strict photo ID requirements.
"They have a one-sided view of what’s important," said Matthew Weil, an elections expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center. "They really focus on what they deem to be integrity measures."
Other groups that analyze state election laws or outcomes gave Nevada higher marks than Heritage did.
Heritage’s scorecard is based on their views of state election laws
Heritage’s methodology is based on examining 12 areas of state election law. States with expansive mail voting policies — such as sending a mail ballot to every voter, as Nevada does — lose out on points. The state also lost points for having same-day voter registration and automatic voter registration where people can register to vote at the DMV.
The point system is "essentially anti-mail voting," said Thessalia Merivaki, a political scientist and expert on elections at Mississippi State University.
Among Heritage’s critiques of Nevada are that it has "unattended, unsecure drop boxes." A state law passed in 2021 says that drop boxes must be secure, locked, and made of metal — but it doesn’t state that election workers must stand by the boxes or have security cameras on them. Jennifer Russell, a spokesperson for the secretary of state, told us that most drop boxes are attended by election workers. (Ballot drop boxes are generally more secure than mailboxes.)
Heritage also deducted points because Nevada doesn’t use a federal database called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or SAVE, to verify whether voters are citizens. But few states use SAVE to verify citizenship, and when Florida tried using SAVE to find noncitizen voters in 2012, it went so poorly, it scrapped the effort.
In Nevada, citizenship is validated by the voter through an affidavit signed under penalty of perjury when registering to vote, Russell said. The state conducts a post-election audit of the voter rolls and refers for investigation anyone identified as potentially falsifying this requirement.
We found at least one indicator in Heritage’s assessment that appeared to be wrong.
Heritage said Nevada does not have "procedures to investigate the validity of a registration when an absentee ballot is returned undeliverable by the post office." But Russell told us if a ballot is returned as undeliverable, the clerk or registrar follows up with the voter to confirm their address. If the voter does not reply within 33 days, their voter registration is inactivated. Absentee ballots are not accepted if they do not match an active registered voter.
Evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election in Nevada was scarce. An AP investigation found roughly 90 possible cases out of more than 1.4 million votes cast.
Danielle Strasburger, a spokesperson for Verified Voting, a group that advocates for safer election technology, said Heritage doesn’t evaluate whether states conduct post-election audits or use voter-verified paper ballots, a system that allows voters to print out the ballot to check it over before finalizing their votes.
"At a time when voter concerns about hacking of voting machines and electronic counts have never been greater, paper ballots and audits provide a much-needed basis for confidence in election outcomes," Strasburger said.
Heritage’s scorecard, Merivaki said, shows "a clear bias about specific processes, such as absentee voting. It completely ignores security protocols that states have to ensure secure voting."
Some elections experts agreed with parts of Heritage’s methodology, such as giving states points for participating in the Electronic Registration Information Center, a consortium that helps states maintain accurate voter rolls, while disputing other parts of their methodology.
"To their credit, they identify some healthy election practices, such as participation in the interstate program ERIC, but they also look down on practices that would actually create more accurate voter rolls and improve the voting experience for citizens, such as automatic voter registration," said Matthew Germer, a fellow at the R Street Institute, a right-of-center think tank.
We found other groups have rated states’ elections on more diverse criteria.
One of the longest-running and most frequently quoted analyses is the Elections Performance Index, developed with guidance from officials who work in elections and now run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 2018, Nevada scored an 80% and ranked 14th. (The group plans to publish the 2020 index in a couple of weeks).
Charles Stewart, an MIT professor who runs the index, said it takes into account convenience and security, although security can be a challenge to measure.
Another analysis of state election practices was developed by a group of nonprofit think tanks across the political spectrum including R Street and the Bipartisan Policy Center. The group agreed on minimum standards for voter registration, casting a ballot, counting votes and security, and it calls on the federal government to give grants to states that meet those standards.
The group found that two states — Colorado and Georgia — meet all the recommendations. Nevada was in compliance with 83% of the standards, placing it in the top fifth of the states.
Other analyses rate states on ease of voting by mail. One of them, from the National Vote at Home Institute, gave Nevada its top rating, five stars, for 2021. Nevada got high marks because it sends all voters a mail ballot, provides online registration, provides multiple places to return mail ballots and takes steps toward securing the voter rolls.
Haw said in a Facebook ad, "Nevada ranks 50th in election integrity ratings."
The ad suggests that multiple ratings have found Nevada in last place, but that’s not true. The 50th place rating came from the conservative Heritage Foundation, which tied its rating solely to security issues, not ballot access or voter convenience.
Other groups that considered multiple issues found that Nevada was not significantly worse than other states. MIT’s Elections Performance Index, for example, ranked Nevada 14th in 2018. The National Vote at Home Institute gave Nevada five stars, its top rating, in June based on policies that include ease of voting by mail.
The statement has an element of truth but leaves out critical context that would give a different impression. We rate this statement Mostly False.
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Jesse Haw for Nevada Secretary of State, Facebook ad, Feb. 2, 2022
Jesse Haw for Nevada Secretary of State, Campaign website, 2022
Heritage Foundation, Election integrity scorecards including for Nevada, December 2021
Heritage Foundation, The risks of voting by mail, Aug. 2, 2020
MIT, Elections Performance Index, 2018
Vote at Home, Nevada, 2021
Nevada Assembly Bill 321, 2021
VoteBeat, The flaws and contradictions in the Heritage Foundation’s election integrity scorecard, Dec. 21, 2021
Nevada Independent, 2022 hopefuls raised big sums in year before election, Jan. 19, 2022
Nevada Independent, Reno developer, former state Sen. Jesse Haw to run for secretary of state, Jan. 21, 2022
AP, Far too little vote fraud to tip election to Trump, AP finds, Dec. 14, 2021
PolitiFact, Trump’s falsehoods about mail voting in Nevada, fact-checked, Sept. 13, 2020
PolitiFact, Ballot drop boxes have long been used without controversy. Then Trump got involved, Oct. 16, 2020
PolitiFact, Do states verify citizenship of voters in federal elections? Dec. 7, 2020
PolitiFact, Same-day voter registration is on the Democrats’ wishlist. Why do some Republicans oppose it? Jan. 19, 2022
Telephone interview, Jesse Haw, candidate for Nevada Secretary of State, Feb. 8, 2022
Telephone interview, John Malcolm, Heritage Foundation Vice President, Institute for Constitutional Government, Director of the Meese Center for Legal & Judicial Studies and Senior Legal Fellow Feb. 9, 2022
Email interview, Matthew Weil, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s elections project, Feb. 8, 2022
Email interview, Charles Stewart, MIT political science professor, Feb. 8, 2022
Email interview, Tammy Patrick, senior advisor to the elections program at the Democracy Fund, Feb. 9, 2022
Email interview, Jennifer Russell, Nevada Secretary of State spokesperson, Feb. 9, 2022
Email interview, Dan Kulin, Clark County elections spokesperson, Feb. 9, 2022
Email interview, Thessalia Merivaki, assistant professor of political science at Mississippi State University, Feb. 9, 2022
Email interview, Matthew Germer, fellow at the R Street Institute, Feb. 9, 2022
Email interview, Danielle Strasburger, a spokesperson for Verified Voting, Feb. 9, 2022
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