This week on Face the State, Arianna Bennett interviewed Washoe County Registrar of Voters Luanne Cutler. Read the full transcript below or watch the interview in the video player.
Arianna Bennett: Welcome to Face the State, I'm Arianna Bennett. Thank you for joining us. Election day is just a few days away and although hundreds of thousands of Nevadans have already cast their ballots early, thousands more will head to the polls on Tuesday. But this election has had it's fair share of controversy and concern about the system being rigged. So we will get some answers. Washoe County Registrar of Voters Luanne Cutler is here now to talk about that. Luanne thank you so much for coming on the show.
Luanne Cutler: Thank you for having me.
So we're getting close to the big day (laughs)
We are. We are.
(overlapping) How are you feeling about all of it?
I'm-I'm anxious for it to be behind us of course, and I think everybody is at this point. But also anxiously looking forward to seeing results and seeing that everything runs smoothly.
Absolutely. So you know you've been in elections a really long time, have you ever seen one quite like this before?
(laughing) There's no question that this is a unique election. In my 27 years I have never seen anything that even approaches this level of attention and questioning and just passion all the way around I think.
Yeah and speaking of that questioning we've really heard a lot of concerns this time around about voter fraud, the election possibly being rigged and we wanted to get some information about that. I'm gonna ask you about it in just a second but first we did ask some experts about the potential for voter fraud and the products or projects in place, programs, excuse me, in place to prevent that from happening-
- So let's go ahead and take a look.
(multiple people talking)
Bennett: In Washoe County officials say there's a big emphasis placed on insuring there's just one vote for one person.
Deanna Spikula: We do a verification process here as well on all new registrants and it goes through our vetting process before they become active voters.
Bennett: In fact there's never been a documented case of voter fraud in Washoe County. One study shows only 31 credible incidents of this type of fraud in the whole country out of a billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014. County officials say safeguards are in place not only for the voter machines and cartridges but also for absentee voting.
We have very secure elections. We have many protocols, many duplicative processes that we do to make and to ensure the integrity of the election.
Bennett: Spikula says voting machines cannot be hacked. They're not connected to the internet, to a network, or even any other machines and they cannot be tampered with from the outside. Poll workers from all political persuasions go through hours of in person training and hands on equipment training.
Spikula: There will be no fraudulent voting activity on the machines.
Bennett: Ballots are stored on a cartridge and backed up on a paper copy. With a security process that makes sure they aren't tampered with. In Nevada, you cannot write in a candidate.
Spikula: We'll also do a double check when they come back to us again at the- it is the cartridge that we sent out, that everything was secure, there's a chain of custody that has been followed.
Bennett: The registrar's office is notified when registered voters have passed away. Those registrations are canceled, preventing someone else from voting in their places. And once someone has voted, it's recorded immediately.
Spikula: So if somebody's already, shows up to appear, we know immediately whether or not they've already shown up at another location or if they've requested an absentee ballot.
Bennett: Okay now I know none of this is news to you (Cutler laughs) how secure would you say the system is?
Cutler: You know I have every confidence in the system. It has actual trip-triple redundancy and as it was mentioned in the piece just now it is not connected to anything. We test those machines every prior to every election and again after every election. We do maintenance on them routinely and they are secured in many different ways, many different types of seals in an alarmed building. So there really is no way to access the machines themselves or anything related to the results of the election.
Okay now I know there have been concerns about the origin of the machines and the person responsible for you know producing them and selling them, owning them. So it's the state of Nevada that owns our machines right?
That's correct. The state of Nevada actually purchased these machines using federal funds through the Help America Vote act back just before 2004 and we've been using these machines since then. Somehow Nevada got on a list of equipment that was owned by Smartmatic Corporation whose owner is George Soros I believe and that information is-is false. Nevada has nothing to do with nor does our equipment have anything to do with that particular company. And as soon as people found that out it did alleviate some concerns.
Right. I think there is definitely a lot of misinformation being circulated -
- I know you mentioned you've been hearing it daily.
Daily, yes. There's questioning coming from all sorts of corners of the of the community which is great, we're happy to answer questions about any of our processes but these are questions that are new and different than we've seen in the past. More suspect. They-they are believing what they're hearing, that the election is rigged and that the equipment doesn't work right and we want to do everything that we can to alleviate those concerns because it's simply not true.
Is it possible for poll workers with nefarious ideas to tamper with peoples' votes? To change the paper backup?
You know it - there is no possible way that once a vote is cast that it can be changed or altered. We don't even have that ability in our office. The vote is recorded in three different ways actually. Once on a cartridge in the back of a machine, once on the paper backup, and again on a hard drive that's stored inside the machine. So if one part of that fails we still have a way to retrieve the actual votes. But there is no way for us to alter them. So.
Okay good to know. What about voter fraud? I know it's not something that we see or have seen at least documented in Washoe County but it's something that you must be aware of right?
Well we hear a lot of stories from from voters, from reporters from other parts of the country will call and ask us about it. We do a lot of bumping of our data of voting registration data against other government agencies datas, DMV, social security, we do cross state sharing of information with other counties in the state as well as other states around the country. We share information, not share but we compare our information with that of the postal service. We do a lot to try to keep our roles as clean as we possibly can. And once we have information about a voter, that voter only has one record. We make sure we merge any duplicates together so that that voter doesn't have the opportunity to go and vote more than one time. There's a lot of work that goes into all of that and we feel that that's not possible at all to appear and vote for someone else.
What about someone with falsified documents? Say a fake ID, fake social security card, is that possible?
Well you know again since we-since we bump our information up to a DMV and social security records it all has to match their files as well so it would take quite an effort to falsify information not only with us but with those other agencies as well. So we don't feel there's a lot of chance for that happening at least here in Washoe county and in Nevada.
Now if it did happen it would have to be on a very very small scale I would imagine.
Very small. Yes.
Okay. Any other you know message you have to voters who are concerned about the legitimacy of our election or you know who really feel like their votes aren't secure?
There's-there are so many processes in place not only protect-to protect the voter and their information but to protect the voter's vote once it's cast. The voter has every opportunity to step back away from the machine and say hey something doesn't look right before they cast that vote. So there's that chance for them to review the process as well and again once that vote is cast there is no-there's no way in place to change that or correct it. The important thing I think is that our-our equipment is completely stand alone as you mentioned. Even the server that tallies votes is stand alone, not connected to anything other than the power outlet in the wall. So we feel it's an extremely secure system.
And the poll workers themselves do come from a variety of political affiliations and backgrounds.
And they're all local?
Excellent point. Yes in fact we make sure that we have a mixture of parties on any on any election board at any of the polling places. And they are all local volunteers and they go through very extensive training. They give up a lot of their time to make this happen for their fellow citizens. So I always I always ask people to please thank your poll worker when you go to vote on election day. These folks have put in a lot of time and are very dedicated to what they do.
Yeah that's true they are. They are definitely a patriotic bunch.
Yes they are.
Okay, so I want to talk about some of the other hurdles that Washoe County specifically has had to kind of hop over in this election cycle, there have been a couple of lawsuits. So let's specifically talk about first the lawsuit for Washoe County Question 1, that's the sales tax increase initiative for school buildings. It had a lawsuit brought up by Jeff Church which ultimately wasn't considered. Can you kind of talk about what happened on your end of that?
Sure. Sure. We are glad by the way that this has been resolved so that there is no doubt in voters minds that this question is going to appear on their ballot and be considered for-for passage or failure one way or the other. The arguments committee process whereby volunteers or citizen volunteers from the community, they come forward and volunteer to write arguments either for or against any local ballot question. And there are a number of statutes in place that govern how we operate those arguments committees. And this case there was a disagreement between the two parties on the committee opposed to the passage of this question. We were unable to resolve that and it eventually came to the point where we did not have a rebuttal from that committee to the argument in favor. They did however submit an argument in opposition to the Question. So we got part of the way through the process before we reached a basically a stand off and were not able to resolve it. You know, hindsight is always 20-20 no doubt. Would we handle things a little bit different in the future? Possibly. I think there's some things we could do to improve the process but the judge did rule that we were compliant with the law and that we followed all the processes we needed to to get fair information to the voters.
Now Jeff Church has said that he plans to appeal that decision, that he wants this measure tied up in litigation. What's Washoe County's position on that?
Well until something actually comes forward, I know the County would not be prepared to-to talk about a possible lawsuit or a possible appeal coming forward. My hope is just that the voters get the opportunity to make a choice and that that choice is acted upon and not tied up in litigation for years. That wouldn't be fair to anyone.
Okay now the second lawsuit was brought up by the local tribes. They felt that they didn't have equal access to voter registration and early voting. The judge decided partially in their favor and then you know you had to set up some extra voting locations correct?
And I know that Washoe County had said that that was going to be a real hardship since it was so close to the election but you were able to make it work.
Well it really for us always has been all about the timing. We prepare our polling places our early voting locations, we do all of our preparations very early in the year. Because we are a small staff and we're spread fairly thin we like to make sure that we've got everything covered as early as possible. Now with the judge making this decision we did go ahead and manually set up as opposed to altering our database, manually set up an early voting site in Nixon and an election day polling place in Nixon and we're happy to do so. Again for us it's just all about the timing. One of my concerns is that some of the folks in Nixon may not have received a letter that that we sent to them explaining their election day polling place so we're really hoping that information gets out. It was too late in the game for us to alter the database. So their sample ballots show that they're headed for Nixon, or excuse me, for Wadsworth on election day when in reality they'll have their own site right there in Nixon.
Okay so message to Nixon voters-
Message to Nixon -
Go to the Nixon polling place.
Yes. But but a good portion, about half of the voters registered in Nixon, have already appeared to vote early which is which is a great thing. We're really happy about that.
Okay so is that gonna continue into future elections?
At this point, you know it's hard to say but I fully expect that it will. We're gonna have some meetings with the tribal leaders during the off season and work-work out something that works best for all of us.
Okay that's a good point for us to take a break. Luanne thank you so much for your time.
All right coming up on Face the State we will bring you a message on voting from one very special northern Nevada. She's been alive for more than a century. Stay with us.
Arianna Bennett: Welcome back to Face the State, I'm Arianna Bennett. Thank you for staying with us. Well with all the negativity in this campaign, toxic ads, mudslinging and propaganda, it's easy to lose sight of why we do what we do here in America every few years. And we may not love every candidate on the ballot and we may not agree with our neighbors on every issue but we get to exercise our democratic right, have a say in the direction our country will move. It's not something we've always had. And this year we got a reminder of that from one native Nevadan.
Bennett: Gertrude Gottschalk has a grandmotherly reminder for all of us.
Gottschalk: Oh I think it's very luck-very important. Every election is, very important.
Bennett: You see when she was born in 1916, women didn't even have the right to vote. It's a right she says she never failed to exercise once she go tit.
Gottschalk: Oh I always voted.
Bennett: Gottschalk is as Nevadan as they come, born on a cattle ranch in the eastern part of the state. And she's seen a whole lot in her 100 years: the great depression, a world war, the civil rights movement, and the digital revolution. But now she's seeing a different kind of change. A move away from the civil discourse.
Gottschalk: They don't discuss it anymore in homes like they used to, sit around the table and discuss who was running and what have you and I think we have kind of a change in attitude.
It's not how Gottschalk says she was raised. So on the very first day of early voting in Nevada this year she headed out to the polls. It's taken a century of waiting, but this year she got to cast her ballot for a woman.
Gottschalk: Boy I think it's fabulous. I didn't think I'd ever live to do it (laughs) but here I am.
Oh you've got to love Gertrude Gottschalk (laughs).
Luanne Cutler: Absolutely.
One hundred years old, still voting first day of early voting. I'm just I'm so impressed and I think it's a good message for all of us on patriotism right?
It is, it is. And it seems like the older Americans truly feel that spirit of patriotism like-like Gertrude does.
Yeah. And I know a lot of them are poll workers too (laughs) right?
They absolutely are, yes.
Okay so now that we're all properly motivated to exercise our democratic right, how's early voting? I mean I know we don’t have our final totals but how was early voting?
Early voting has been truly amazing. It looks like we're going to be breaking records for numbers. As of Wednesday evening we already had over 100,000 people vote early in Washoe County. So we're looking towards you know 120, 130-thousand this time and that certainly breaks any records from the past.
Boy that's a far cry from what we've seen in the past. I know in the last general election you came on Face the State and we were talking about record lows.
So I mean, great news.
It's wonderful news and even though I think everybody is somewhat tired of all the negative campaign ads and so on they're motivated to get out and vote and that's all that we as a county election department really want. You know we put on these elections so people can voice their opinion and we're just thrilled to see people turning out in droves.
What percentage is the goal for Washoe County?
You know I would really love to see 80%, 82%. The last two presidential elections Washoe County has had a 78% turnout. So anything that'll bump that number up a bit we'll be happy for that.
That seems pretty good. Is that pretty good nationally? Or?
It is. It is very good. It runs about average. Presidential years of course always bring out more voters than the non presidential years so it's about average nationwide.
All righty, so for those of us who like to vote on election day, I actually usually like to vote on election day but I voted early this year, what's the tip or do you have any insider tips on how to avoid long lines? Is there a best time of day to go?
Well without a doubt the best time of day to go is midday. Anywhere from maybe 12-3. The times you want to avoid, don't go right at 7am when they open and don't go right at 7pm when they're closing.
Chances are very strong there will be a line at both ends of the day. So we always advise midday. Make sure you know the polling place you're assigned to. That's really key because it could have changed from the last election depending on when you last voted. That really, that really is the key. If you have your sample ballot, bring it with you to the polls. It really helps the poll workers be able to look you up a little bit quicker.
Yeah that was going to be my next question. What do voters need to bring with them?
Of course sample ballot. We advise that you bring along a form of identification. Generally speaking that's not necessary, you don't need it but if your signature happens to have changed since you registered we may have to ask you for identification just to verify that. You'll be asked for your address so we can make sure we've got you registered at the right address. And then you'll just sign and go over and cast your vote and it really won't take long at all.
Now if someone doesn't have an ID can they still vote?
Absolutely, absolutely. If they are registered to vote, let's say their signature doesn't match when they show up. If that's the case and they don't have ID with them we will ask them a series of questions based on information that we have on their registration form so that we can be sure we've got the right person in front of us voting.
Okay are there any changes this year that voters should be aware of?
You know nothing in particular. We've used the same equipment, the same processes, since 2004 so if you voted before it should be smooth as silk for you.
Okay now this is something we've touched on before and it's not a new rule but I want (Cutler laughs) to touch on it again, and that is no ballot selfies right?
Oh yes absolutely, that is-that is the term this year a 'ballot selfie' that-that we've heard a lot about. And at this point in time Nevada law still does prohibit any picture taking, video recording, anything like that in the polling place. So we certainly advise strongly against it because it is not permissible by law.
Okay but you can take a picture say of your sample ballot at home and post it?
Absolutely. Absolutely. It's just not an actual ballot.
Okay now if someone is caught doing that they're not gonna be kicked out right? Or..
No no we're not going to stop someone from voting because that's of course our ultimate objective. But we will certainly ask them to quit. Yeah we just want to follow the law.
Okay quick note on safety we've been hearing a little bit nationally about people patrolling voting places, what measures are in place to keep voters safe?
You know I'm glad you asked that question because I did want to point out that we do have a very large number of observers from political parties, campaigns, whatever, so-so don’t be alarmed when you walk into the polling place and there's a number of people standing around in an observer area. We have teamed up with the Sheriff's Department and other local law enforcement agencies to just they're kind of going to be on stand by for us, we've armed our poll workers with some handy tips, a couple of good phone numbers to call, non emergency numbers if necessary. We just want everybody to be alert to their surroundings but still get out and vote.
Absolutely, okay we've got about a minute left so what's your message to voters who are considering just not voting this year?
Well gosh you know we always make the joke if you don't vote you can't complain but this is your opportunity to really to really express your opinion in a way that matters. So-so please there's other offices on the ballot too in addition to the presidential race that-that will have a big impact on your daily life so it's important. Get out and vote.
Yeah, arguably more of an impact than the -
-the high ballot races.
Okay, Luanne, thank you so much for your time -
(overlapping) Thank you Arianna.
-I really do appreciate it. Well that's it for this episode of Face the State but for more information on all of this or to see past episodes just can head to our website that's KTVN.com. Thank you so much for being with us. We'll see you next week.