Red County Blues

The Donald Made Me Do It
Vote! – image: Vytas B, cc 2.0


The state assemblyman who represents the county where I live in northern Nevada wants to change the way we handle mail-in ballots in the state. Under current law, ballots are sent to every active voter and, once completed, they can be returned by mail, deposited in drop boxes, or hand delivered to various designated locations. Mailed ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received within four days after the election to be counted. 

The bill our assemblyman proposes would require mail ballots to be postmarked by the last day of early voting, and received before the polls close on election day. Early voting normally ends the Friday before the Tuesday election. 

The legislation would solve what are, in his eyes at least, a couple of problems. He described them in a recent interview. He said it would return us to “election day,” not “election week,” and assuage his personal embarrassment at how long it takes Nevada to count votes and present results. His bill would bring back “both election day and trust in our election system,” and “help our elections run more efficiently and it will help our state deliver results on time.” 

If this seems like flimsy reasoning, that’s because it is. We are all nostalgic for “election day.” We stayed up late, watching the returns, until Walter Cronkite or someone like him told us who won. And of course we all want the results sooner rather than later. But is it more important to be “on time,” whatever that means, or to give as many people as possible the chance to vote and then take the time to count their votes?

Beyond flimsy, there is a fatal flaw here. The loss of trust our assemblyman refers to—AKA the crisis in “election integrity”—has a problematic pedigree. It’s born of a lie.

 A little background. This fiddling with various deadlines is part of a more extensive package of changes being proposed by MAGA Republicans in our state. It includes voter i.d. for in-person voting, and anyone voting by mail would have to include a partial social security or driver’s license number on their ballot. Our Republican governor has also called for an end to voting by mail altogether. Lastly, they would eliminate same day registration.    

None of these proposals will pass our Democratically controlled state legislature, with the possible exception of some form of voter i.d.  But no matter, the point of this exercise in political theater is to let MAGA World Nevada know the Big Lie, and the ex-president behind it, still run the show. 

But theater, and the suspension of disbelief that makes it work, is not something to trifle with. It’s fine in its place, but take it outside into the real world and things can get dicey. You know, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, as long as the surveillance videos don’t come out.  

To put it another way, once you bend your mind around a lie you can never really straighten it out. 

“Election integrity” was not a thing in Nevada, or anywhere for that matter, until Donald Trump arrived on the scene and started lying about our elections. In 2016, even before the election and when he thought he was going to lose, he charged the whole process was rife with “widespread voter fraud.” When he really did lose in 2020, he gave us the aptly-named Big Lie. 

Our county commission, chaired at the time by this same assemblyman, marked their observance of the Big Lie in their own, inimitable way. As required by state law, they met about a week after the election to “canvass” the results. That is, they were to certify the vote count as reported by the county clerk so she could pass it on to the Secretary of State.

But when the time came it was suggested the commissioners add a disclaimer to their approval of the clerk’s report stating they were not vouching for its accuracy. Their justification was the obvious, to them, potential for fraud in mail-in voting. Their evidence consisted of constituents telling them about seeing mail-in ballots sent to people they knew were dead.

Fortunately, our county clerk refused to be cowed. She stood by her report, and the work of her staff in conducting the election. The results were accepted without qualification. 

No one produced an actual example of the above-mentioned dead people, or someone pretending to be them, actually casting a ballot. That is not surprising. The Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Cases database shows that since 2011 there has been a grand total of eight documented cases of voter fraud in Nevada. 

Your Vote Counts – image: Theresa Boucher, cc 2.0

Nevertheless, our assemblyman proposes we change the way people vote because trust in the election system has been lost. The elephant-size absurdity is lost on him, and he must hope on us too. 

It works like this: MAGA Republicans high and low fell right into line behind the Big Lie, even when it was but a glimmer in Trump’s eye. They wrung their hands and publicly fretted over our so easily compromised election system, again without the necessity of citing actual examples. Friendly cable networks provided a platform and enthusiastic support from pundits and talking heads. Social media pitched in, endlessly repeating the worst fears and offering embellishments of its own. Before you knew it, people were bombarding officials with demands that they do something about all this election fraud. 

Thus we have officials being asked to propose solutions to a ginned-up problem they themselves created.  

With their starting point a downright lie, it’s no wonder Nevada’s MAGA Republicans find themselves being sucked into a whirlpool of counterproductive—read stupid—policies and proposals.  

There is a simple, effective answer to peoples’ concerns about “election integrity.” First step would be for MAGA Republicans to stop lying about how elections work and about the clerks, officials, and volunteers who make them work. It would also help to address and debunk the concerns they’ve planted in peoples’ minds. 

For example, a ballot sent to a dead person’s address is not the equivalent of a fraudulent vote. The county clerk does not necessarily know when a registered voter passes away, but there are safeguards and plain old common sense preventing that ballot from ever being improperly cast and counted. If someone did get their hands on a ballot, and they were hell bent on voting with it, they would have to match the signature on file with the deceased voter’s registration. Obviously, one of the election workers’ main tasks is comparing ballot and registration signatures, and resolving any discrepancies.

Sure, in some parallel universe just the right person might come across an undelivered ballot, providing the Post Office did not simply return it to the county clerk. They would then miraculously duplicate a total stranger’s signature well enough to survive several levels of official scrutiny. The result would be a single improper vote—along with the eight others since 2011.    

But, MAGA Republicans say as they fling the baby out with the bathwater, even the possibility of a single improper vote cannot be tolerated. The facts, and the above-mentioned common sense, tell us that for every seldom seen, improper vote the Republicans’ bright ideas might prevent, a whole lot more people who want to vote will miss out one way or another. 

Try telling any large group of people, like the 2.2 million voters in Nevada, to do a certain thing at a certain time and some of them, certainly more than eight, will miss the deadline, get something wrong, or screw up somehow. And the more needless complications you pile on the more screw-ups there will be, that’s guaranteed. 

So why would they do this? Why would they make it harder to vote?

Could be that in MAGA Republican minds these snares will only entangle potential Democratic voters—specifically the diverse voters in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, where ninety percent of the people in Nevada live. There is an element of knee-jerk, country=us=good / city=them=bad, at work. Our county commission tried to say they really didn’t believe there was cheating in our county, just down there at the other end of the state. No matter that elections work exactly the same way everywhere. 

Some soft-core racism might also be at play. They might think those Latinos, Blacks, Asians, Pacific Islanders, among others, who populate the south end just aren’t as capable of navigating their way to the ballot box as white Republicans. 

Making voting harder and more complicated just means it takes up more time, and some people have more time than others. Whether you’re an hourly worker putting in long hours for minimum wage at the Quickie-Mart, or skilled labor doing construction, a whole lot of your time is already spoken for. There is the family, kids, keeping the household afloat and together, and maybe a night on the town once in a while. Conventional wisdom holds that these are Democratic voters, but targeting them is also going to hit low wage, less educated working class voters who are, last time I checked, a key constituent of MAGA World.  

In the case of my senior citizen-heavy red county, where Republicans routinely win almost three-fourths of the vote, you’re telling me Murphy’s law only applies to Democrats? Only seventy-something Democrats, never Republicans, will ever lose their i.d., or miss the new deadlines, or just plain procrastinate until it’s too late? 

So why do the Republicans throw rocks when chances are they are just as likely to hit their own voters as anybody? Because showing fealty to the big lie blinds them to reality, let alone to the consequences of their actions.  

The Big Lie and our elections are irreconcilable. You cannot dabble in both. It’s one or the other. The Big Lie was and is pure fiction. It never had anything to do with elections. It was not derived from or even related to anything factual about elections. It exists all by itself, and only because Trump lost and needed a means to deny that loss. 

Does anyone believe for one minute that even if all the Republican proposals were enacted and Trump still lost the next election he would accept defeat? Got voter i.d.? The Democrats distributed thousands of fake i.d.s to illegal aliens! New deadlines for mail ballots? Democrats in the post office slow walked Republican ballots, or sent them to the dumpster! Same day voting only? Democrats sabotaged the printers so Republicans can’t read the ballots! Etc., etc., etc. The lies are only limited by Trump’s imagination. 

So the Republicans hang their hat on irrelevancies, trying to straddle the gap between the Big Lie and the real world. Out on a limb they go, taking their voters with them, in service of Donald Trump—even though he’ll saw it off without a second thought. 

Erich Obermayr, a columnist for the Sierra Nevada Ally, is an author, community activist, and career archaeologist specializing in sharing historical and archaeological research with the public. He writes about Nevada politics and social issues. He lives in Silver City, Nevada, with his wife. Support Erich’s work in the Sierra Nevada Ally here.

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