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ACLU suing Elko County over compliance with jail voting law

The group said the county is not abiding by nine parts of a 2023 law requiring local jails create a policy outlining their inmate voting processes.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
CourtsCriminal JusticeElection 2024Elections

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada is suing Elko County, alleging the county has not complied with a new law requiring jails to facilitate voting for detainees who are eligible to cast a ballot.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Elko District Court, alleges that the Elko County Sheriff’s Office has failed to comply with nine provisions of the 2023 law, including ensuring the secrecy of detainees’ ballots, guaranteeing that detainees can vote without intimidation and outlining a process for same-day voter registration.

AB286, which passed the Legislature with near-unanimous support last year (three Republicans opposed the measure) and went into effect Jan. 1, requires all county or city jails in the state to explicitly update their policies to allow any eligible detained people to register or vote in an election. 

Nevadans who have been convicted of a felony and remain in prison cannot vote, while those serving time in local jails for misdemeanors or who are detained awaiting a verdict have the right to vote if they are otherwise eligible.

The ACLU said in the lawsuit that Elko’s noncompliance amounts to voter disenfranchisement, and requested the court force the county to comply.

“[T]he continued imposition of barriers to registering to vote and voting for individuals in custody will undoubtedly lead to the disfranchisement of detained eligible voters within its facility,” the lawsuit read.

An Elko County official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit also alleges that Elko County did not respond to an ACLU demand letter sent last month that outlined the ways in which the ACLU believed Elko was not complying with the law. The group requested additional information within 11 days, or it  would pursue legal action.

The letter was sent a month after the ACLU threatened to sue any local jail not complying with the law, after the group had filed records requests to see if jails were complying and found that many were not.

Elko County’s response to the records request referred to its policy from last September, which outlines all of the law’s provisions but did not outline the specific processes in place to ensure the law was being followed. The lawsuit said the response “merely reiterates the provisions of AB 286.”

County officials also submitted a report to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office following February’s presidential preference primary, which stated that no inmates registered to vote or voted in that election. 

The report included the same policy that the county had sent in response to the ACLU’s records request, but it also includes a new section outlining the county’s plan to allow detainee voting, such as two employees being in charge of registering detainees or updating their voter registration. 

The ACLU said that report does not show the facility’s processes for ensuring compliance with nine of the law’s provisions.

In the February presidential preference primary, 23 people incarcerated at the Clark County Detention Center voted, while 26 Washoe County inmates voted and one Churchill County detainee participated, local officials told lawmakers in March.


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