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Nevada Gov. On A Law That Expands Mail-In Voting


Here in the U.S., every Nevada voter should get a special delivery in the mail this fall - a ballot. A new law directs the state to automatically mail a November election ballot to every active registered voter. President Trump is threatening to sue the state over this. For weeks, he has been trying to sow doubts about voting by mail without any evidence. Steve Sisolak is the Democratic governor of Nevada. He just signed this bill into law, and he joins us now.

Welcome, Governor.

STEVE SISOLAK: Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.

SHAPIRO: Do you expect the president to follow through on this threat to challenge the new law in court, or do you think it's just bluster?

SISOLAK: I don't know. It doesn't matter much to me, frankly. I mean, we're very, very confident about the legality of what we've passed. It's my job to ensure that people don't have to choose between their health and the ability to vote, exercise their right to vote, and that's what we intend to do in November.

SHAPIRO: State Republicans are particularly critical of one provision in this law that allows non-family members to deliver ballots for voters who are elderly or disabled, and the Republicans warn that it would enable ballot harvesting, which is illegal. How can you assure people that this is not a loophole that will be exploited?

SISOLAK: Well, what people have to understand, and I think the Republicans are well aware of this in our state particularly - we're in the middle of a pandemic. It has caused a great deal of stress in our state. Our unemployment's at a record high, especially with the hospitality industry that we're dealing with. We've got a lot of senior citizens. My mother, for example, is 93 years old, has not been out of the house in four months. They need to be assured that they can give the ballots to their caregiver, to whomever it might be, and that the ballot be mailed, and that their vote be counted. And that's what we want to do, is make sure that everybody - you can still vote in person if you want to. You can still vote early if you want to. This just is another option for people to exercise so we can get as much participation as we can.

SHAPIRO: Well, speaking of in-person voting, this law also increases the number of polling places. Clark County, home to Las Vegas, had just three during the June primary, and the new law says there should be at least 100 in Clark County. So how do you staff 100 polling places during a pandemic when many poll workers are afraid of the coronavirus?

SISOLAK: Well, you know, we've got a great registrar of voters down in Clark County, and we will have adequate personnel at all of the early voting sites to make sure that people can get in and get out. But what you saw - we had an all-mail-in primary, yet we still had the situation where people could go vote, you know, in person. And we had lines that were six and eight hours long because some people just want to do it the traditional way. They want to go. They want to vote in person. That's the way they've done it for X number of years, and that's the way they want to continue to do it. And we respect that. We give them the opportunity to do that and exercise that voting right. So we will have the voting sites open, the voting centers, and people can either send it in early, or they can bring it down to the voting place on Election Day if that's what they choose to do.

SHAPIRO: Let me shift you to Nevada's response to the coronavirus because the state is third in the country for cases per capita right now, and an NPR analysis shows that Las Vegas currently has one of the worst ratios of available hospital beds to coronavirus infections. Meanwhile, casinos on the Las Vegas Strip are still open. So what do you say to health care workers who are telling you they are overwhelmed right now?

SISOLAK: Well, right now, you know, we are not in that bad of shape when it comes to hospitalizations for our coronavirus people. You know, we've got - we had an increase in testing and contract tracing, which has definitely resulted in the identification of more positive cases. But we have hospital availability. We're in the high 70% in terms of hospital occupancy. Ventilator use is, I believe, in the low 70 percentage rate that is available. So we have room in our hospitals. We have room in our ICUs. And we just need do everything we can to educate people, hopefully get them to understand that if they practice social distancing, if they wear a mask, if they avoid large groups, we can get a handle on this.

SHAPIRO: I mean, the Daily Beast headline from just a couple weeks ago was "Overwhelmed And Terrified: Las Vegas' Reopening Backfires Terribly." You're saying that and the NPR analysis of the ratio of hospital beds to coronavirus cases - those are just false?

SISOLAK: Well, I don't know about the article that you're speaking of, and I don't know about your analysis. I can tell you the facts are that I believe we're at 79% capacity in our hospital intensive care beds. And that includes all uses for the beds, not just COVID usage. We have had hospitalizations clearly, but I think we have a handle in terms of the hospital capacity. There's surge capacity and flex capacity at all the hospitals where they could increase anywhere from 20% to 50% on addition on top of that. But right now, our hospital beds - we're OK.

SHAPIRO: Nevada's Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat. Thank you for speaking with us today. We appreciate it.

SISOLAK: Pleasure. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.