• Madeleine Chinery, Ian Cook & Abby Ocampo

Young Nevada and California Voters Relieved to Have Mail-In Options

As Madeleine Chinery, Ian Cook and Abby Ocampo report, in 2020, mail-in voting is prevalent in many states, including Nevada and California, to make the election safer due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Merisse Garcia, 20, is a UNR student and first-time voter. Garcia believes voting by mail is safer in a pandemic and more convenient for students. Photo by Ian Cook.

Broadened Mail-In Options

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after voters raised concerns about voting in person, states across the country broadened the mail-in option. Nine states and the District of Columbia automatically mailed ballots to their registered voters, California and Nevada among them. In another 36 states, mail-in ballots can be requested by all voters. The remaining five states including Texas require an excuse for a mail-in ballot, where it does remain a possibility.

Natasha Brown, a 24-year-old college graduate living in Hayward, Calif., is one of those concerned voters. Brown voted by mail in 2016 and plans to do it again this year, mainly because of the pandemic.

Mail-in voting has been a part of American elections since the Civil War, but typically on a much smaller scale. It has been an option for American citizens who are unable to cast their vote in person, including people abroad, out-of-state college students, military personnel, and more. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, mail-in ballots have already been sent to over 44 million people.

California mailed nearly 21 million ballots for every voting eligible citizen in the state. Both Californians and Nevadans have a choice about whether to vote by mail or in person.

Instructions for Nevada’s mail-in ballots are important. If the ballots inside aren’t filled out properly these will be discarded. Photo by Ian Cook

Concerns about the Administration and Legal Battles

Brown received her ballot in early October, and plans to mail it in soon.

California has already set a record for returned ballots. Twenty times more voters have returned their ballots compared to the 2016 and 2018 elections.

Brown does have doubts about her vote not being counted, but it is because of how President Trump has spoken about the validity of the process.

“It makes me feel suspicious because I feel like he is a fraud, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he does things to create the outcome of him winning,” she said.

The president has repeated many times, without evidence, that mail-in ballots are prone to “inevitable” voter fraud. In early August, the Trump campaign and the Republican party sued Nevada over a law to send mail-in ballots to every registered voter in the state. Trump described Governor Steve Sisolak’s new law as a “catastrophe waiting to happen.”

Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, ultimately asked a federal judge to dismiss the case in September. The filing indicated the claims had no legal standing or an explanation of how this unfairly hurt the campaign.

Particularly during a global pandemic, many voters see mail-in ballots as a safer way to have their vote counted. Nevada’s elections this year have not been free of problems — the Democratic Caucus faced a myriad of technological challenges, and, according to the Nevada Independent, as many as 10,000 ballots may not have been counted in the June primary — but voter fraud has never been one of them.

In the above video, President Donald Trump expressed concerns about mail-in voting in Nevada.

Risky In-Person Voting

Students at the University of Nevada, Reno, are cognizant of the risks of voting during a pandemic. Merisse Garcia, 20, is a student from Las Vegas concerned about her older parents with underlying conditions.

“It’s dangerous,” Garcia said. “If I weren’t on my own right now, I’d be living with my very high risk parents.”

Mail-in voting is not only a matter of safety, Garcia explained. There are no long lines. It gets ballots directly to people’s hands. Perhaps most importantly, voters do not have to take time off from work to vote. Election Day is not considered a federal holiday, and many in-person voters who cannot afford to miss a day of work have historically been left out of the process.

The apparent benefits of mail-in ballots beg the question of why the Trump campaign would push so hard against them. Many Republicans claim mass mail-in voting gives Democrats an advantage, but emerging evidence suggests the reality is less clear.

“It makes me feel like he’s got… a personal agenda,” Garcia said. “If all goes as planned, meaning without any tampering of the mail, hopefully people would take advantage of the convenience. I certainly hope people of our age have voted more.”

Garcia’s words reflect a massive social media campaign across all platforms to encourage young voters to participate in the election. Other UNR students have similarly called for safer voting measures.

Voting to “Find an End to this Pandemic”

Erin Penaranda is a 21-year-old biology major at the University of Nevada, Reno and has advocated staying safe and educated during the pandemic. She expressed concerns about voting this election and exposing her high-risk family members to the virus.

“This election is important because we need to elect people that believe in the facts of science,” Penaranda said. “That way we can move forward and find an end to this pandemic.”

Brown, the Hayward, Calif., voter, also wanted to add a message to younger voters. “This election is super important,” she said. “It’s super vital that our generation gets out there and votes as we are in our early adulthood. These are things that are going to be affecting our lives now and sets the tone for what’s to come!”

Reporting by Madeleine Chinery, Ian Cook and Abby Ocampo for the Reynolds Sandbox

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