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Esmeralda County activists want to recall clerk over resistance to hand counting ballots

Community members expressed their desire for hand counting ballots at the Feb. 5 commission meeting despite the process’ failures in 2022.
Carly Sauvageau
Carly Sauvageau
ElectionsLocal Government

Esmeralda County Clerk LaCinda Elgan is one of the few election administrators who has been in her position for more than a decade and has not been part of the significant turnover the election workforce has seen in the past four years.

However, that could change if Elgan’s critics, who want to recall her because she pushed back against hand counting ballots, succeed in recalling her.

During the Esmeralda County Board of Commissioners’s Feb. 5  meeting, Mary Jane Zakas presented a letter from the Esmeralda County Republican Central Committee requesting to recall Elgin. Commissioners also discussed possible budget cuts to the elections department.

According to state law, at least a quarter of those eligible to vote for the clerk would have to sign the petition for her to be recalled. In Esmeralda County — Nevada’s least populated county with fewer than 800 people — that would be a minimum of 186 signatures. 

The last four years in elections have been marked by false conspiracies such as the Big Lie, an unfounded claim by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen, which has led to significant turnover within the election workforce and increased harassment and violence toward election workers. The false narratives have also resulted in efforts across the country to hand count paper ballots because of unfounded fears that voting machines can be hacked and are error-prone

Rural Nevada has been a battleground for the Big Lie, with Donald Trump gaining support in rural counties across the state, including in Esmeralda County where the former president received more than 82 percent of the vote in 2020.

Although the county has not yet released minutes or video of the meeting, people who watched described the proceedings to The Nevada Independent.

All Voting is Local, a nonpartisan voting rights organization, said Zakas, who presented the recall and hand counting effort, used Nye County’s hand counting efforts during the 2022 election as an example of success even though the county opted out of hand counting this cycle.

Elgan and the Nye County Clerk’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Elgan initially refused to hand count ballots but after commissioners requested hand counting twice, the clerk agreed to hand count them to verify the votes after they were tabulated by machines. In a phone interview with The Nevada Independent, Zakas said the commissioners approved that agreement.

Elgan also resisted efforts to count ballots by hand in 2022 after county commissioners had pushed for a hand counting at the urging of prominent election denier Jim Marchant, who is vying for the Republican spot in this year’s race for a Senate seat. Despite Elgan’s protests, the county ultimately moved forward with a hand count in the 2022 primary, during which commissioners and election staff hand counted 317 paper ballots over the course of more than seven hours, finishing just before the deadline to certify the results of the primary election.

Later that year, Commissioner Ralph Keyes told The Nevada Independent he believed the count “proved that the [machine] voting is accurate in our county.”

“So, I don't see this continuing,” Keyes said. “I just think people want some reassurance that we have fair and accurate elections. That’s all, and I think we showed them that.”

Amid this year’s push for hand counting, All Voting is Local said Elgan initially pushed back against Zakas’ report that Nye County’s hand counting was a success and noted Esmeralda County’s effort to hand count during the 2022 election resulted in higher costs and close deadlines. 

Kerry Durmick, the Nevada state director of All Voting is Local, said Esmeralda isn’t the only county that is seeing an interest in hand counting ballots. Elko County commissioners also scheduled a meeting with the clerk to discuss hand counting in the upcoming election.

“This issue is not being brought up by county clerks,” Durmick said. “It’s being brought up by boards of commissioners, and they're pressuring the county clerks to do this.”

A similar effort that played out in 2022 was led by various Republican activists across the state, though Nye County was the only jurisdiction to complete a full hand count during the 2022 general election.

Though most commissioners approved of hand counting and suggested using unpaid volunteers to assist in the process, another said Elgan was following state guidelines and told community members that they could watch the voting process online. 

Durmick said though recalls are a democratic right, the threatened budget cut and recall felt retaliatory to Elgan speaking against hand-counting ballots.

“Boards of commissioners are putting unnecessary pressure on their county clerks in an already tough political climate and a tough election year,” Durmick said.

She said though it is a difficult time to be an election administrator, she wanted to highlight that there have been fewer resignations and retirements this election cycle compared with recent years. 

But election administrators are still resigning. Washoe County recently appointed Cari-Ann Burgess as the new interim registrar after Jamie Rodriguez left the position she held for little more than a year.

“It's really important that people are stepping up into this role, because it is a very hard job right now,” Durmick said.

Sean Golonka contributed to this story.


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