One of the country’s most high-profile efforts by Trump Republicans to avoid using ballot-marking computers in 2022’s midterm elections and instead count votes by hand is coming apart at the seams.
Less than two days after Nye County, Nevada, began a controversial hand count led by an interim county clerk who is a 2020 election denier, Nevada’s Supreme Court and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, issued consecutive orders late on Thursday, October 27, shutting down the operation until after Election Day, November 8.
The twin orders were narrowly focused on a hand count process that interim Clerk Mark Kampf created this fall and debuted on Wednesday, October 26. On its first day, only 50 ballots were hand counted. In the county’s 2020 presidential election, 30,000 ballots were cast by voters, suggesting a full hand count would not finish before the deadlines in state law.
Most of Nye County’s voters are located in its southern tier, which is near Las Vegas. That location makes Nye County a potentially pivotal swing district in one of 2022’s battleground states.
Many of Nevada’s statewide and congressional contests are very close, according to numerous polls, including seats now held by Democrats. Among those are one U.S. House seat and a U.S. Senate seat.
The Nevada Supreme Court order agreed with an emergency motion filed by the ACLU of Nevada earlier on October 27 that contended that the counting process violated other state election laws that require vote counts to remain secret until after Election Day.
The process created by Kampf, which led the ACLU to sue earlier in October, had two people reading aloud the choices made by voters on their ballots, and three other individuals tallying those results. When the hand count commenced on October 26, six teams counted 50 ballots and nearby observers—including ACLU lawyers—heard the voters’ choices. The observers also witnessed many counting errors, causing the teams to recount votes multiple times.
Nevada’s Supreme Court said that reading aloud the results violated state law and ordered the county to cease immediately. It also ordered the county and secretary of state to work out another hand count process that would begin after the November 8 Election Day.
“Observers may not be positioned so as to become privy to the ballot selections and room tallies,” the court’s October 27 order said. “The specifics of the hand-count process and observer positioning so as not to violate this mandate is for respondents and the Nevada Secretary of State to determine.”
However, the secretary of state’s rebuke implied that the state and county might not agree on an acceptable hand count process.
“The current Nye County hand counting process must cease immediately and may not resume until after the close of polls on November 8, 2022,” said Cegavske’s October 27 letter. “Further, no alternative hand counting process may proceed until the Secretary of State and Nye County can determine whether there are any feasible ‘specifics of the hand-count process and observer positioning’ that do not ‘violate [the Supreme Court’s] mandate.’”
The issues at the center of the two orders are not the only problems shadowing Nye County’s handling of the 2022 general election.
In the 2020 presidential election, roughly three-quarters of the county’s voters supported Donald Trump. In late 2019, Nye County’s supervisors declared the county was a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” meaning that its citizens could carry weapons into public buildings.
On October 26, a female election worker with a gun tried to confiscate the notes being taken by an ACLU observer. That incident was not the subject of orders by the state Supreme Court and secretary of state.
There are other issues. Voting Booth visited several early voting sites in other rural Nevada counties. Those counties, which are less populous than Nye County, appeared to have far more electronic voting stations per site than Nye County, where Kampf has opposed using the ballot-marking computers.
How insufficiently deploying election equipment will affect the county’s voter turnout is an open question whose impact remains to be seen.