Amid fears of voting machines, Nevada approves manual counting

LAS VEGAS (AP) — As parts of rural Nevada plan to count ballots by hand amid misinformation about voting machines, the Nevada Secretary of State’s office on Friday approved regulations so that counties are counting votes by hand starting in midterm elections this fall.

But the revised regulations will no longer apply to the only county that has been at the forefront of hand counting.

Indeed, Nye County, in the desert between Las Vegas and Reno, will also use a parallel tabulation process alongside its manual count, using the same machines that are typically used to count mail-in ballots. All ballots in Nye County will look like mail-in ballots, Acting Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf said in an interview earlier this month.

Nye County is one of the first jurisdictions in the country to act on election conspiracies linked to distrust of voting machines. Nevada’s least populous county, Esmeralda, used manual counting to certify key June resultswhen officials spent more than seven hours counting 317 ballots.

The longtime Nye County Clerk resigned in July after campaign conspiracies led to a successful push for the vote count.

Kampf, his replacement, falsely claimed that former President Donald Trump had won the 2020 election. He pledged to bring manual counting to the rural county of about 50,000 people, alongside the parallel tabulation process in using machinery.

Nevada’s office of the secretary of state changed hand-counting regulations after Kampf and others criticized them during a feedback session Aug. 12. State officials changed the definition of “manual counting” to apply only when it is the only method of counting ballots.

The rules require bipartisan teams of at least four people to count votes, mandate spacing between tables and require room for observers, among many other provisions. State officials initially said teams could count batches of 20 votes at a time, but increased the number to 50. Kampf had criticized the lower number of votes per batch, saying it would be more efficient to teams to count batches of 50 votes.

“I think it represents a good partnership with the secretary of state’s office to refine those procedures,” Kampf said Friday.

The regulations come into effect on October 1 and will last until November 2023, although officials hope to enact them permanently.

Four voting groups — Brennan Center, All Voting is Local, ACLU Nevada and Silver State Voices — had previously urged the secretary of state’s office to drop the regulations. and instead ban manual counting altogether, saying that manual counting leads to more errors than machine voting and takes longer.

Several showed up on Friday to speak out again against the changes.

Voting rights attorney Sadmira Ramic of the ACLU’s Nevada Chapter called the passage of the regulations “a slippery slope that will have disastrous consequences for the state,” creating more room for electoral errors and falsification.

“The Office of the Secretary of State, in passing these regulations, condones the use of manual counting while ignoring the urgency of the problems such procedures will cause,” she said.

She also criticized the lack of enforcement or the consequences for counties that don’t follow the rules.

Deputy Elections Secretary Mark Wlaschin previously acknowledged in an interview earlier this month that there was no enforcement mechanism outlined in the regulations.

He said his office considered “a number of contingencies” in the event of non-compliance. Part of ensuring compliance falls on the office of the secretary of state, he said, and part of that role falls on county clerks.

Proponents of manual counting have described the old-fashioned way as a way to dispel mistrust of elections, particularly unproven claims that voting machines are prone to hacking and untrustworthy . Experts said manual counting takes much longer and exposes the process to more errors.

Wlaschin said the new rules will help counties that decide to move to manual counting systems, preventing clerks from developing rules from scratch. The regulations will also create a uniform structure so the state can ensure that counting is valid in counties that decide to use only manual counting, of which there is currently none.

But questions remain about the implementation of the regulations and how they will play out in counties that vary in population, size and political leanings.

Humboldt County Clerk Tami Rae Spero said in an interview that it would be difficult to follow guidelines that require finding bipartisan vote counters and the physical space that will be needed for observing the hand count. .

During a hearing earlier this month, Wlaschin asked Kampf if Nye County plans to phase out the parallel tabulation process, leading to a full count.

Kampf replied, “Hopefully we can prove to you and those who doubt and have significant doubts that it can work, that you would make that decision then.”

Some Nevada state lawmakers will discuss next week whether to crack down on efforts by rural counties to count votes by hand.

In an interim legislative session Monday for the Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, lawmakers are due to deliberate on whether to draft a bill requiring counties that stop using voting machines to return public funds that were granted to them for the machines.

The bill would not pass until at least February, when Nevada’s next legislative session begins.

Friday’s hand-counting regulation hearing came as several Nevada Republicans in key races repeatedly questioned the 2020 election results without evidence.

Senate candidate Adam Laxalt led former President Donald Trump’s campaign in Nevada and filed paperwork to try to overturn the state’s 2020 result.

Republican Secretary of State nominee Jim Marchant has made electoral distrust central to his platform and has repeatedly denied the results of the 2020 election.

In February, he told voters that “your vote hasn’t counted for decades.”

He also worked with Kampf to design the hand count plan in Nye County and hopes to roll it out across the country.

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

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