Nevada enjoys one of the freest observation laws in the country. NRS 293.274 requires that county clerks allow “members of the general public” to observe the elections. In most states, observers must be affiliated with a candidate or a political party. But in the interest of transparency, the Nevada Legislature has written a law that allows anyone who is interested to come and observe.

Unfortunately, the Clark County Elections Department hasn’t lived up to this statutory promise. In 2022, the Clark County Elections Department was overwhelmed with mail-in ballots as a result of the passage of AB 321, which required that all voters on the active voter registration list receive a mail-in ballot. The ballots are sent out 15 days in advance and must be returned by the close of business on the Saturday after the election. To verify the identity of the voters, elections officials are required to verify the signatures of the voters returning the ballots. This process has become long, is riddled with error, and has twice in recent years caused Nevada to be the last state to report results in national elections.

During the 2022 election cycle, the Clark County Elections Department made strides toward transparency by allowing signatures that were being verified to be displayed on an overhead projector. They also worked with conservative and nonpartisan groups to improve meaningful observation.

However, it seems that these improvements in transparency have decreased in 2024. The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s (TPPF) Election Protection Project sent observers to the Clark County central count facility during the presidential preference primary and regular primary elections in February and June.

The Clark County Elections office wouldn’t give a definite time for observation and would not allow the observers to take a tour of the facility before Election Day. The observers were made to sit in a long rectangular room behind glass where they could not meaningfully observe what was happening. Each observer could only move around if escorted by two different elections staff members and wasn’t permitted to ask questions to anyone except the director, who was not present.

Furthermore, in 2024, the signature review panels did not utilize the same screen they had provided in 2022 to allow observers to monitor how signatures are reviewed and approved. A machine called an Agilis machine checks ballot signatures against voter registration and DMV signatures and analyzes whether they match or not.

Past litigation has challenged whether how strong the verification method on the Agilis machine is set affects the accuracy of verification. In 2024, election officials stated that they kept the machine verification settings light to send more ballots to human ballot review boards for verification. To election officials, more human analysis meant a more secure verification process.

Ballots that are rejected by the machines are sent to a ballot review board that must be “bipartisan.” However, this bipartisan requirement may be satisfied with one Democrat and one Republican, one Democrat and one independent, or one Republican and one independent. The TPPF observers in the signature verification room witnessed a few signature verification panels operating with just one instead of two board members.

Moreover, the Clark County Elections Office has hired temporary workers to serve on the signature verification boards, which raises questions as to how the partisan identity of those workers is determined. If the county is relying on review boards for increased security, then it is essential to know who is on the board and their standards for review. There is currently very little transparency regarding who is actually reviewing signatures.

This fall, electors in Nevada will vote on an amendment to the state Constitution to require photo identification to vote and new signature verification requirements. If adopted, Nevadans would use an identifying number, such as a Social Security number or driver’s license number, to sign their ballots instead of a signature. This method has been adopted in other states, such as Georgia, and has provided increased security. It would also eliminate the need for signature verification boards that have no transparency or oversight by the public.

The Nevada secretary of state has also changed the rules and is allowing registrars to begin tabulating votes at 8 a.m. on election day, instead of waiting until polls close at 7 p.m. This will speed up the reporting timeline at the end of the night and mean that Nevada hopefully will no longer keep the nation waiting while it gets its house in order. Voters expect election results to be reported on election night, just as it always has been. Anything that makes that happen will be a positive change, but that also means that observers need not be at the tabulation centers earlier and all day.

Voters should be encouraged by these developments. However, Nevada’s election officials would do well to increase transparency and accountability for its electoral process. Voters must have confidence that they will be treated fairly and that their vote will count. Elections officials are missing the mark by clawing back some of the gains made in past years — such as allowing signatures to be viewed on larger screens by the general public. Nevada voters should be able to monitor their elections and understand what they are observing. Without meaningful access, that transparency can’t happen.