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EDITORIAL: Election officials need to report results sooner

Those seeking to learn the results of last week’s primary needed an extra dose of patience. Election officials must avoid a repeat performance this fall.

Turnout in last week’s election was solid for a primary, but far from spectacular. Statewide, just over 25 percent of voters cast a ballot. Almost 1 million more people voted in the 2020 general election. Here in Clark County, turnout was under 23 percent.

That should have made it easy to count and release election results in a timely manner. Nope.

The polls closed at 7 p.m. The last voter in line cast their ballot just before 9 p.m. But results on the secretary of state’s website were still slow in coming. Some individual county websites did better. Washoe County, however, had technical difficulties, which caused further delays.

This isn’t going to cut it, and election officials need to be preparing now for speedier results this November.

Not releasing results while people stand in line is good policy. Infamously, the major media networks declared Al Gore the winner in Florida while polls were still open in the western part of the state. That seemed to have depressed turnout in those counties, which were more conservative. Absent that bit of misinformation, it’s likely George W. Bush would have won the state by more than a razor-slim margin.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done. Officials should redouble their efforts to make sure Election Day voters are able to get through their lines quickly and the voting machines are where the voters will be. Even with mail ballots and early voting, a significant number of people will want to vote on Election Day.

Technical problems should also be worked out well in advance. It’s reasonable to expect even government employees can create and run functional websites.

There’s another important reason to work the kinks out now. Timely reporting eliminates the information vacuum that gives fodder to conspiracy theorists. There’s a partisan divide in how Nevadans cast their ballots. Democrats overwhelmingly voted by mail, while Republicans preferred in-person voting. Nevada allows the early counting of mail ballots. Those results should be released quickly after the last vote is cast on Election Day.

Secretary of State spokeswoman Jennifer Russell said election officials “are reviewing all practices and procedures to ensure that the initial results of the general election are released in a timely manner.”

Let’s hope so. While few people are likely to remember delays in a primary, it’ll be a much different story if it happens again in November.

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