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Parts of Nye’s ballot hand counting plan blocked by Nevada Supreme Court

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley
CourtsElection 2022Local Government
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Photo of the top front of the building with the words Supreme Court of Nevada

Portions of a rural Nevada county’s plan to hand count ballots for the 2022 election are being curtailed by the state Supreme Court, which said in an order Friday the hand-count process cannot be livestreamed and county officials must ensure voters can use all options to verify their signature as provided by state law.

In a unanimous ruling issued Friday, the six sitting members of the court ruled largely in favor of the claims brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which filed the lawsuit against Nye County on Oct. 4 over what it called a process that it said would “unravel the election integrity protections currently in place and will undoubtedly make it harder for Nye voters to exercise their freedom to vote.”

The ruling is a writ of mandamus — a court order compelling a party to take a certain action — and otherwise does not affect the county’s overall plan to hand count ballots this election cycle.

The dispute stems from the recent appointment of Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf, who replaced longtime county clerk Sam Merlino in August. Kampf, a close ally of Republican secretary of state candidate and prominent election-denier Jim Marchant, has been public about his desire to conduct elections through the hand-counting of ballots, a decision fueled by unfounded conspiracy theories about Dominion voting systems.

Once in office, Kampf announced plans to hand count all ballots cast in the county of more than 33,000 people, with a parallel electronic tabulation in place to satisfy requirements under state law. Under this plan, a volunteer “reader” would verbally announce the selections on each ballot to three “talliers,” whose tallies would be verified by the “reader” and a separate volunteer “verifier”. Ballots would be counted in batches of 50, with public observers allowed to witness the proceedings.

Kampf additionally planned to livestream the hand-counting process, which is due to begin on Oct. 26 with the counting of returned mail ballots.

In their ruling, members of the court wrote that Kampf’s planned livestream and aspects of the proposed hand-counting process would violate a state law prohibiting the release of election results before polling places close on Election Day. 

The justices further mandated that the county require all in-person observers to the hand-counting process “certify that they will not prematurely release any information regarding the vote count process before [Election Day] and ensure public observers do not prematurely learn any election results.”

The court sided with the ACLU on their complaint about signature verification, too. The plaintiffs argued that Nye County’s plan to require identification from voters if signature verification failed contradicts state law. In Nevada, voters can prove their identity in that situation in one of three ways: answering questions about their personal information on voter registration forms, providing other personal information that verifies their identity either orally or in writing, or by providing proof of identification.

The court agreed that the county’s omission of the other two methods went against the rule of law.

“Any limitation on the ability to prove identity by restricting the available options to confirming an address or providing an identification card clearly violates the law giving voters three ways to prove identity, if needed to confirm their signature on the ballot,” the ruling states. 

The plaintiffs had also raised an issue with the touchscreen machine portion of Nye County’s plan, saying it would result in poll workers determining whether voters have special needs warranting their use. But the court disagreed with that claim, noting that the county clerk had clarified that voters would determine whether they need to use the Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible touch screens.

“We treat this statement to mean that any voter who wants to use a touchscreen can,” the ruling states.

A separate lawsuit filed by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada seeking a preliminary injunction of state-level regulations around the hand counting of ballots was unsuccessful in court.

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