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Voters line up to get ballots at Whitney Community Center on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)
Last updated: October 22nd, 2020 - 2:13pm

The Nevada Republican Party and President Donald Trump’s campaign are condemning Clark County election officials for “restricting observers” in a way that prevents poll watchers from “meaningfully observing the process,” but state Democrats call the complaints an attempt to “suppress voter turnout.”

A letter sent Tuesday to Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske asserts that Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria “failed to timely submit” an accommodation plan for election observers as Nevada statutes require. It also alleges that observers are being prohibited from entering areas where ballots are being handled and reviewed, impeding their ability to fully observe the counting process and preventing transparency.

State Republicans made it clear that if its criticisms of the county process are not addressed, a lawsuit is a possibility, saying in a release on Wednesday that the Nevada Republican Party is “prepared to remedy this issue in court.”

In a statement on Thursday, Clark County Election Department spokesperson Dan Kulin said the letter featured “many misleading or inaccurate claims,” and that the department has “gone above and beyond” to provide election observers access.

One of the areas that the letter said the department had not allowed observers access to was the call center. Kulin clarified that the call center is not utilized for counting, and no ballots are brought to the room. Instead, staff in the call center answer calls from voters who need to “cure,” or correct the signature on, their ballots.

“This means that staff may be discussing personal information, such as birth date and the last four numbers of their social security number, with the voter on the phone,” Kulin said. “Legally, we must prevent the public from being able to collect that personal information.”

Party officials and the Trump campaign also went after the counting process itself in the letter, saying procedures used by the Clark County Counting Board to review ballots and ensure they’ve been filled out properly and can be counted prevents those ballots from remaining secret. Once a counting board member reviews a ballot, that ballot is placed back in an envelope with a voter’s identifying information in it.

They argued that this could potentially allow county officials who do not agree with the voter’s decision to invalidate the ballot without cause. The Republicans requested that the system be altered so that identifying envelopes are no longer associated with a ballot once opened.

“Given these issues, we would ask that your office issue a clarification notice to Clark County (and all counties) that, once received, a ballot cannot be placed back in its original envelope but should merely be placed in ‘an envelope,’” the letter says.

The Nevada Democratic Party criticized the move by state Republicans, calling it a part of their “quest to cast doubt on the integrity of our election system.”

“After losing their lawsuit, they are now focused on yet another blatant attempt to suppress voter turnout,” said party spokesperson Madison Mundy. “But it won’t work. Nevadans see through this desperation and are casting their ballots by mail — and we are going to make sure their votes are counted.”

Kulin said that the letter inaccurately described the ballot counting process, and that ballots are separated from return envelopes, which are then moved to a secure location before ballots are removed from privacy sleeves.

“When the ballot is being reviewed, there is no voter-identifying information connected to that ballot,” he said. “At no time is the envelope with the voter’s name sought or used in this step of the process.”

As of Wednesday in Clark County, 124,941 ballots have been cast by mail, nearly 61 percent of total ballots cast in the region. Statewide, 231,935 mail-in ballots have been cast, 64 percent of total ballots.

The letter also said that the county has rejected multiple requests made by the Nevada Republican Party to place cameras in polling sites and counting areas that could live stream the ballot handling process, thereby preventing limits on the number of observers. The state party had offered to pay for those cameras, the letter said.

Photographs and recordings by the general public are prohibited within polling places, but ballot counting is allowed to be recorded by the county, and Nevada statutes do allow for observers to request those photographs, recordings, or video reproductions of the counting process at central counting locations.

Kulin pointed to the prohibition of cameras at polling places as one reason the request had not been granted, but also stated that it would be “inappropriate” for one political party to have “exclusive control” of any cameras or recordings at a polling site.

Updated on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 2:13 p.m. to include a statement from the Clark County Election Department.

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