Nevada orders shutdown of controversial ballot hand count in rural county


The Nevada secretary of state’s office has ordered the hand counting of mail-in ballots in Nye County, Nevada to stop, after the state Supreme Court said the method violates state law.

In a letter sent Thursday night, Nevada’s deputy secretary for elections Mark Wlaschin told Nye County’s interim clerk Mark Kampf that local officials “must cease immediately” counting ballots. The counting, he added, “may not resume until after the close of polls on November 8, 2022.”

In a statement Friday morning, Nye County spokesman Arnold Knightly indicated local officials still were looking for a way to resume the laborious task – a step they are pursuing as a precursor to potentially ditching voting machines in future elections.

“We will not conduct hand counting today, but will resume as soon as our plan is in compliance with the Court’s order and approved by the Secretary of State,” Knightly said.

Nye County, a rural community northwest of Las Vegas with some 33,000 voters, made headlines this week as one of the first in the country to begin hand-counting ballots in response to conspiracy theories about the reliability of vote-tallying machines, fostered by allies of former President Donald Trump. Nye officials still will use machines to count ballots and submit official results, but Kampf said he was using teams of volunteers to hand count ballots as a test of a system he hopes to make permanent in this Republican stronghold.

Interim Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf speaks on the phone outside of a building where early votes are being counted on October 26, 2022, in Pahrump, Nevada.

Critics of hand-counting say it is prone to errors and worry that discrepancies between hand counts and those generated by machines might fuel further distrust of the election process and even prompt local officials to delay certifying election results.

High-profile and competitive contests for governor, a US Senate seat and the role of state election chief are all on the ballot in this crucial battleground state.

The shutdown stems from the state Supreme Court requiring that the hand count be conducted in a way that prevents the public release of early results. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which had gone to court to stop the counting, said that reading aloud the votes each candidate received within ear shot of public observers violates state law.

The state’s high court, in a ruling Thursday evening, sided with the ACLU’s arguments and left it up the secretary of state’s office and Nye officials to determine the next steps.

On Thursday evening, Sadmira Ramic, a voting rights attorney with the ACLU of Nevada, called the developments “a victory for all who believe in democracy.”

“Our position has always been that a general election is not an appropriate avenue for conducting experiments with election processes, and it has become increasingly clear that there is no path forward for this hand counting process under the law,” Ramic said in a statement.

Jim Marchant, the GOP nominee for secretary of state and a prominent skeptic of the 2020 election results, has lobbied Nye and other counties in the state to ditch voting machines. He faces Democrat Cisco Aguilar.

The current officeholder, Barbara Cegavske, a Republican who has defended the legitimacy of the 2020 election, is term-limited.

Most election offices use machines to tabulate votes, and hand-counting ballots is largely confined to smaller jurisdictions, Mark Lindeman, director of Verified Voting, a nonprofit organization that specializes in election technology issues, told CNN earlier this year.

The group estimates that just a tiny slice of the population – roughly 444,600 voters – live in communities where ballots are still counted by individuals. More than 209 million Americans were considered active registered voters during the 2020 general election, according to the US Election Assistance Commission.

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