Nevada elections office seeks clarity on manual ballot counting

A rural Nevada county’s plan to hand-count all paper ballots for the midterm election is under new scrutiny just days before the count begins.

The sticking point: How the county will prevent ongoing vote totals from being publicly leaked.

A ruling Friday from the Nevada Supreme Court allowed the manual count to go ahead, but with several provisions, one of which was to ensure that the vote count was not broadcast live and to find a way to ensure that poll workers could keep count. secret.

Ballots cast early, either in person or by mail, are typically counted by machine on Election Day, with results released only after the polls close. Nye County, where conspiracy theories about voting machines have proliferated, wants a manual count in addition to the machine count. You must start before the November 8 election to meet the state’s post-election certification deadline. State law limits early manual counting to mail-in ballots.

In a letter to Acting Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf over the weekend, Nevada Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Mark Wlaschin requested a “written explanation of how Nye County and you intend to meet with all the provisions” of the judgment. he requested the plan by the end of the business day on Monday.

Manual counts are done publicly for transparency, with observers in the room. Voter groups have said that increases the chance someone could post early results before a majority of voters have cast their ballots, which they say could cause a “manipulative post” and influence turnout. of the voters.

Nye County’s manual count of mail-in ballots is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning.

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled partially in favor of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that challenged several aspects of the manual count, including a live stream that Kampf says allows people to “become poll watchers at home.”

In the letter, Wlaschin said he particularly needed to know how Nye County will ensure that race results are not known to observers prematurely. Nevada has major national races this year for US Senate, Governor, and Secretary of State.

“Time is of the essence if Nye County wishes to proceed with its parallel process, which cannot continue until compliance with these Nevada Supreme Court orders is resolved,” Wlaschin wrote.

As it stands, observers will have to sign a form saying they won’t post the first results they hear, according to the suit.

Under Nye County’s plan, five-person hand-counting teams will include a reader who announces each result, a checker who looks over the reader’s shoulder, and three counters who write down the results. The accountants then compare your results before submitting them. They count ballots in batches of 50 in a public area.

In an email to The Associated Press, Kampf said he had 98 volunteers as of Monday morning.

Nye County is one of the first jurisdictions nationwide to act on election conspiracies related to mistrust of voting machines. In the June primary, Nevada’s least populous county, Esmeralda, took more than seven hours to hand-count the results of 317 votes cast to certify the results.

Elsewhere in Nevada, the Elko County board of commissioners signaled its support for hand-counting and paper ballots last week, though they’re likely to stick with the machines this cycle because Election Day is so soon.

Manual counting is used primarily in small townships in New England and rural Wisconsin. There are 658 jurisdictions in the continental US that rely solely on manual counting, with the vast majority having fewer than 2,000 registered voters, according to data from Verified Voting, a group that tracks voting teams in every state.

The most populous county in the continental US using manual counting alone is Owyhee County, Idaho, which had 6,315 registered voters in 2020. Nye County had more than 33,000 registered voters.

It will also use tabulating machines for the November 8 election. But the sheer number of ballots to be counted by hand raises questions about whether the county can meet the Nov. 17 deadline to certify results.

Kampf was named county clerk after the longtime clerk resigned in July, a decision she made after election conspiracies, fueled by those who repeat lies about losing former President Donald Trump in 2020, spread throughout the county. . The board of commissioners voted unanimously to recommend eliminating voting machines and counting all ballots by hand.


Stern is a staff member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues. Follow Stern on Twitter @gabestern326.


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