Nevada county defends vote hand-count after ACLU lawsuit

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Officials in a rural Nevada county will allow members of the public to view the hand-counting of mail-in ballots before Election Day if they sign a waiver promising not to release voting information early, the county said Wednesday in its response to a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to halt the county’s plan.

Nye County’s 20-page statement filed in the Nevada Supreme Court came in response to an emergency petition by the ACLU’s Nevada chapter asking the court to bar the county’s controversial hand-counting process.

The planned hand-count will take place alongside machine tabulators. The plan, which has the full support of the county commission, was put in place in response to false claims about Dominion voting machines that have spread throughout the county twice the size of New Hampshire.

Nye County is one of the first jurisdictions nationwide to act on election conspiracies related to mistrust in voting machines. Nevada’s least populous county, Esmeralda, used hand-counting to certify June’s primary results, when officials spent more than seven hours counting 317 ballots cast. On Wednesday, Elko County’s board of commissioners discussed their support for hand-counting and paper ballots, though they will likely have no hand-count this cycle as it’s too close to when polls open.

Nye County alleged that the ACLU’s argument rests on “speculation and a distorted view” of their process.

The ACLU argued Nye County’s plan to start counting mail-in ballots two weeks before Election Day risks the public release of early voting results. It alleges that county officials’ method of using a touch-screen tabulator for people with “special needs” illegally allows election workers to ask about a voter’s disability or turn away otherwise eligible voters based on “arbitrary decision making,” and that Nye County’s wording of “special needs” is ambiguous.

The organization also argues that the county’s “stringent signature verification,” which allows the clerk to require an ID card if a voter’s signature fails, violates state statute.

In response, Nye County said that streams of the hand-count process will not be released until after polls close and that in-person poll observers will need to sign a form if they observe the hand-count before Election Day to not release any information. The county referenced Nye County interim Clerk Mark Kampf’s comments at a recent county commission meeting where he said he would not turn anyone away who claims that they need to use the touch-screen tabulator.

“Even if this bullet-point was suggestive of some nefarious plot, this court needs more than just speculation and the possibility of a future act to provide legal relief,” the county argued in response to the claim that the “stringent signature verification” violates Nevada statute. The county also defended asking for voter ID as a verification option if a voter’s signature does not match.

“We are eager to respond to Nye County and to have our concerns considered on the merits,” said Wes Juhl, ACLU of Nevada’s director of communications and outreach. “We’re two days away from the start of early voting, and we’re not going to back down from protecting access to the polls and the freedom to vote in this case but also throughout Nevada into Election Day and beyond.”

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Stern is a corps 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 undercovered issues. Follow Stern on Twitter: @gabestern326.

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