Amid Voting Machine Fears, Nevada Approves Manual Count

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 approved regulations Friday for counties to count ballots. at hand starting in the midterm elections this fall.

But the revised regulations will no longer apply to the one county that has been at the forefront of the drive to count by hand.

That’s because 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 normally used to count mail-in ballots. All ballots in Nye County will resemble mail-in ballots, Acting Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf said in an interview earlier this month.

Nye County is one of the first jurisdictions nationwide to act on election conspiracies related to mistrust of voting machines. Nevada’s least populous county, Esmeralda, used the manual count to certify the results of the June primary, when officials spent more than seven hours counting 317 ballots cast.

The former Nye County Clerk resigned in July after election conspiracies led to a successful attempt to hand-count votes.

Kampf, his replacement, falsely claimed that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election. He has promised to bring the manual count to the rural county of around 50,000, along with the parallel tabulation process using machines.

The Nevada secretary of state’s office changed the hand counting regulations after Kampf and others criticized them during a comment session on August 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 space for observers, among many other provisions. State officials originally 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 for teams to count batches of 50 votes.

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

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

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

Several came forward Friday to speak again against the changes.

Voting rights attorney Sadmira Ramic of the ACLU’s Nevada chapter called adoption of the regulations “a slippery slope that will have dire consequences for the state,” creating more room for election errors and manipulation.

“The secretary of state’s office, by passing these regulations, is approving the use of manual counting while ignoring the urgency of the problems such procedures will produce,” he said.

He 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 is no enforcement mechanism outlined in the regulations.

He said his office has considered “a number of contingencies” for noncompliance. Part of ensuring compliance falls to the secretary of state’s office, she said, and part of that role falls to county clerks.

Supporters of manual counting have described the outdated method as a way to address mistrust in elections, especially unproven claims that voting machines are prone to hacking and unreliable. Experts have said that counting by hand takes much more time and exposes the process to more errors.

Wlaschin has said the new rules will help counties that decide to switch to manual count systems by preventing employees from creating rules from scratch. The regulations will also create a uniform structure for the state to ensure the count is valid in counties that choose to use only the manual count, of which there are 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 the guidelines that require finding bipartisan vote counters and the physical space that will be needed for the manual count observation.

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

Kampf responded, “I hope we can show you and those who doubt and have significant doubts that it can work, that you would make that decision then and there.”

Some Nevada state lawmakers will discuss next week whether to rein in rural counties’ efforts to count votes by hand.

In an interim legislation session Monday for the Legislative Operations and Elections committee, lawmakers will deliberate whether to draft a bill that would require counties that stop using voting machines to return state funds they were given for the machines.

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

The hearing for Friday’s hand counting regulations came as several Nevada Republicans in key races have repeatedly challenged the results of the 2020 election without evidence.

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

Republican Secretary of State candidate Jim Marchant has made electoral mistrust a core element of his platform and has repeatedly denied the results of the 2020 election.

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

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

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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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