In Nevada, a last-ditch effort to make sure every vote counts

Washington Post photo by David Becker
Volunteers with Nevada Democratic Party Jack and Sally Leonard leave a flyer with instructions to cure a mail-in ballot for a voter on November 11, 2022 in Henderson, Nevada. The couple knocked on doors to remind voters that their mail-in ballot will not be counted unless it is fixed.

HENDERSON, Nev. – Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” played on the radio as Jack and Sally Leonard embarked on a mission to squeeze every last Democratic vote out of Clark County, Nev.

Election Day passed days ago. But with the vote count revealing a tight race between Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican Adam Laxalt on Friday morning, with control of the Senate on the line, thousands of ballots with minor defects could still be fixed and counted. So the Leonards, motivated by their concern for the future of the country, went out to do some curing.

“I fear for democracy,” said Sally, 71. “We have family members that are . . .”

“Radical,” Jack, 74, interjected.

“Radical,” Sally agreed. “And by that I mean, they’re okay with the lies that are being told.”

When Nevada enacted universal mail balloting last year after turning to mailed ballots in 2020 as a pandemic solution, the law required verification using signatures provided during voter registration. If signatures on mailed-in ballots don’t match those signatures, or there’s no signature at all, the ballots need to be verified, or “cured.”

As absentee balloting becomes more common nationwide, the effect has been to draw out the election process, with volunteers knocking on doors not only before the election – but in the days after, as well.

Vote curing is an option in 24 states, eight of which conduct universal mail balloting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Deadlines to cure range from the day before Election Day to 21 days after. In states with longer windows to cure ballots, like Nevada, political groups with voter turnout ground-game infrastructure also help voters cure their ballots in the days after an election.

The effort could be decisive in especially close races. In Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, Republican firebrand Lauren Boebert held a narrow lead of just over 1,100 votes against Democrat Adam Frisch on Saturday. But between 3,000 and 4,000 ballots had been flagged for curing. With Democrats enjoying an overall advantage in mail-in ballots, the scramble to contact voters and cure the ballots before the deadline on Wednesday could boost Frisch’s numbers.

Nevadans have until Monday to cure ballots, which is part of the reason for a protracted vote-tallying process that was continuing Saturday and was expected to extend into next week.

In Clark County, home to Las Vegas, officials sent letters and made phone calls to more than 11,000 voters with verification issues on their ballots. But with so much at stake, political parties and advocacy groups have launched their own efforts to spread the word and get ballots fixed.

Door-to-door efforts to cure ballots have typically been a liberal undertaking in Nevada, though numerous groups take on the challenge. In 2020, Republicans may have left votes on the table: There were 2,887 uncured ballots statewide, according to the Nevada secretary of state’s office, about a third of which were from Republicans and a quarter from Democrats.

Nationally, former president Donald Trump and other Republican leaders have encouraged voters to avoid mail voting in favor of voting in person on Election Day, while lobbing unsubstantiated accusations about fraud tainting the absentee vote. It is unknown how the rhetoric affected turnout in Nevada; the partisan breakdown for the states’s mailed ballots will not be available until next week.

But Democrats appear to believe they have something to gain through aggressive cure efforts.

Enter white-bearded Jack Leonard, in his Wild Bill T-shirt, cargo shorts and Skechers slip-ons. He had voted for politicians from either party until Trump’s arrival. The Republican’s rhetoric turned him off.

As Sally fumbled with the GPS on her phone, the couple crisscrossed southern Las Vegas and the suburb of Henderson in their red SUV. They knocked on door after door, using as their guide a list provided by the party-backed Nevada Democratic Victory. With an app provided by the organization, they checked off 20 houses Friday morning.

At one residence, they let a voter’s husband know she ought to take care of her uncured ballot as soon as possible. At unanswered doors, they left behind a pamphlet headlined “YOUR BALLOT WILL BE REJECTED!” with instructions on how to remedy ballots by phone, email or in person.

The couple might have stayed at home on Friday, but Supreme Court decisions this year, including the court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, ushered in a sense of urgency, they said.

Nevada Democratic Victory declined to share details about the extent of its curing efforts or its process. The state GOP does not advertise volunteer opportunities related to curing on its website and did not respond to a request for comment.

The state’s Culinary Union said it is running the largest signature-curing effort statewide; 200 canvassers began curing efforts on Wednesday and will continue through the weekend, the organization said. “People are really grateful we are letting them know and helping them have their vote counted,” union spokesperson Bethany Khan said.

The Leonards mostly got no response, speaking to only three people in person.

“We tried,” Jack said, shuffling into the driver’s seat.

Said Sally: “That’s all we can do.”