RENO, Nev. (AP) — Two voting rights groups on Monday filed the latest lawsuit seeking to shut down a controversial hand-count of all paper ballots in rural Nye County, arguing that the interim county clerk there is “inventing” an unauthorized hand-counting practice that was not legally vetted.
Officials in the county first started a hand-counting process on Oct. 26 but the Nevada Supreme Court ordered it shut down a day later, siding with the American Civil Liberties Union’s objections to volunteers reading election results aloud. Nye County resumed a revised version of its hand-counting last week after Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske ordered the county to halt its counting until after polls closed.
While Nye County commission members have shown support for scrapping voting machines completely, machine tabulators are the primary counting method for this election, and Nye has already reported the results of nearly 21,000 ballots cast.
Nye County, home to about 34,000 registered voters, is the most prominent county in the U.S. to change its vote-counting process in reaction to conspiracy theories about election fraud tied to voting machines, though there has been no credible evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of machines.
As the hand-counting resumed last Thursday, interim county clerk Mark Kampf told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that it would act as an audit of the machines.
But in their lawsuit filed Monday, the ACLU of Nevada and Brennan Center for Justice said Nye County's new hand-counting plans, submitted after the previous plans were scrapped, were not submitted by the deadline of 90 days before the general election.
The organizations also say that the new location where Nye County is hand-counting ballots was not approved, further undermining the "security and integrity” of the vote count. There is no assurance of ballot security or protections against ballot altering, the organizations claim.
Furthermore, the lawsuit argues that the county’s plan does not meet the statutory requirement for a recount, audit or contest of an election.
The only instance when a county clerk can count ballots more than once is through a recount demanded by a defeated candidate, the lawsuit alleges, and the recount would be limited to that candidate’s race. Audits of election results can also be requested, but no one has done so in this election, the suit claims.
Under the revised hand-counting plan the county is using, volunteers wearing gloves sit in groups of three, each tallying one ballot at a time, then passing them on to the next worker. Another volunteer checks that all three reviewers counted the same number of votes.
“It’s a haphazard and disorganized approach to one of the greatest responsibilities of election administration, counting every eligible vote," said Sadmira Ramic, a voting rights attorney for the ACLU of Nevada, in a statement.
Nye County spokesperson Arnold Knightly said the county would not comment on the filing.
The filing is the latest development in a conflict between the rural county’s election administration and the ACLU that has spawned lawsuits, complaints to the secretary of state’s office and a series of Nevada Supreme Court rulings.
There are 658 jurisdictions in the contiguous U.S. — mostly small townships across New England and rural Wisconsin — that rely exclusively on hand-counting, with the vast majority having fewer than 2,000 registered voters, according to data from Verified Voting, a group that tracks voting equipment across states.
The most populous county in the U.S. to use only hand-counting is Owyhee County, Idaho, which had 6,315 registered voters as of 2020.
An Arizona county is also embroiled in a legal battle over whether it can conduct a near-total hand-count of ballots after Election Day.
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.