IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Nevada Secretary of State Wants $30M for a Voter Database

Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar is asking state lawmakers for approximately $30 million to help aid in establishing a statewide voter registration database that would modernize the way elections are administered.

(TNS) — Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar is asking state lawmakers for approximately $30 million to help aid in establishing a statewide voter registration database that would modernize the way elections are administered.

Signed into law during the 81st legislative session in 2021 — before Aguilar took office — Assembly Bill 422, had sought to create a centralized statewide database of registered voters known as the Voter Registration and Election Management Solution, or VREMS.

According to Aguilar, that's different from the current system where such information is kept on a county-by-county basis, putting workers in his office in frequent contact with county clerks.

In a final assessment issued by former Secretary of State Barbra Cegavske last year, she advised the VREMS system not be fully implemented until 2026 to ensure the project "not be rushed," while remaining a top priority.

The problem with that, Aguilar told the Sun, is that much of the technology being used for the database, such as source coding, could be obsolete by the time it's ready for use and thus costing the state more in the long run by continually playing catch-up.

"We are in a technology deficit, and trying to come out of that deficit is going to take a lot of work," Aguilar said. "In the private sector, four to six years is a world away. Things will be different. And we have to start now, because I think Nevada voters are demanding to have more information."

It's unclear how much the project has cost to date, as the budget for later phases remains under development, according to the secretary of state's website. The state however, did complete an initial "assessment" phase of the project, which was completed on budget for $432,380. In that same assessment issued by Cegavske last February, she noted it would cost about $12.7 million to build a custom VREMS system, which she called "untenable."

But coupled with the time crunch of implementing VREMS ahead of Nevada's Feb. 6, 2024, presidential primary and the sunk cost of moving to this "top-down" model, the one-time $30 million budget appropriation Aguilar is asking for is the most prudent solution for taxpayers, he said.

"We have worked very aggressively in our timing," Aguilar said. "But I think the team is committed to doing it because they know what the benefits are in the long term."

The switch to a VREMS system would potentially allow for voter outreach initiatives that simply aren't possible now, Aguilar maintained.

One such method that Aguilar mentioned was developing an app allowing citizens to track their ballot from the moment it's sent from the secretary of state's office. But the VREMS system will also create a data model that shows who is voting by which methods, and how those voters' needs can be met.

For example, Aguilar's office will be able to see where residents in a given area are voting and by which method they are voting by, which can help determine where a voting precinct might be or if voting outreach initiatives can be geolocated to specific neighborhoods.

"My goal is that a voter will be able to track their ballot from the time it's mailed from us to the time it's actually counted and filed," Aguilar said, adding that this can only be possible once the state has a model of registered voter data. "Just like you do with your GrubHub order. If you know where your pizza is, you should know where your ballot is."

Having voter registration data handled at the state level will also help automatically update information instantaneously, Aguilar said. So if someone changes their address or submits paperwork to another state agency (i.e. the DMV), they can scrape that information to update the voter roll.

And by reducing the workload on the state's 17 counties, they can instead reallocate resources during election season like processing mail-in ballots, a task that beleaguered Clark County officials for days following the 2022 general election.

"The issue is if we had the right data we would say this is an operational capacity conversation and what do we need to do to increase our capacity to count ballots," Aguilar said. " Clark (County), for example, did a great job counting the early votes, but as soon as people started mail voting, that capacity didn't exist for them to count those ballots by Election Night."

In addition to the $30 million Aguilar is asking to implement VREMS, the secretary of state's office is also seeking an additional $15 million to improve SilverFlume, the state's online business portal used to apply or renew licensing, make tax payments and other administrative services.

That earned the support of the Vegas Chamber, Nevada's largest business collective, whose senior vice president of government affairs, Paul Moradkhan testified in Carson City in support of the move.

"We appreciate the intent of the bill which is to create and offer a streamlined business licensing service that operates in a business-friendly manner through integration," Moradkhan told the Assembly on Wednesday. "We view the state and local governments as partners in the licensing process and are important to this process."

The funding for SilverFlume would be used to improve assets like the user interface, and enhancements to the way filings are uploaded electronically, Aguilar said.

"It's going to pay off from so many perspectives," Aguilar said. "It's going to make our business community happier. It's going to make us a better business-friendly state. ... so the economic development of SilverFlume is so impactful, that $15 million is really going to benefit taxpayers in the long run in a significant way."

©2023 the Las Vegas Sun, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.