A packed commission meeting in Washoe County Tuesday. (Photo courtesy Let Nevadans Vote)
Washoe County commissioners, citing concerns about legal authority and fearing unnecessary chaos, rejected proposed changes to local election procedures supported by 2020 election deniers pushing bogus claims of election fraud.
Following more than six hours of public comment, commissioners voted 4-1 on Tuesday against the resolution with only Republican Washoe County Commissioner Jeanne Herman, the proposal’s sponsor, in favor.
“All of the things in it, even the things that the board can move forward with today, are going to put our election in jeopardy,” said Democratic Commission Vice Chair Alexis Hill. “This resolution would limit access to voting and create chaos and throw our voting tallies into question. I don’t see any evidence for this resolution.”
The proposal comes as a wave of Republican-led election changes are being considered in multiple counties across Nevada, mirroring legislation passed in other states restricting the voting process.
The resolution was introduced by Herman, who cited baseless concerns brought to her by residents about voter fraud and election security issues as her inspiration.
Following the 2020 election, Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske did a review of alleged election integrity issues and found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Herman’s proposal, which was originally introduced in February but pulled from the agenda, sought 20 changes to the election process, which included converting to paper ballots to be counted by hand, calling on law enforcement to be present at each ballot box and using different colored provisional ballots for same day registrants.
The ACLU of Nevada threatened to litigate if the resolution passed saying it violated state and federal law, including the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act.
“The proposed measures are either redundant, unnecessary or patently illegal,” said Holly Welborn, the policy director for the ACLU of Nevada. “If you move forward with this proposal we will sue and we will win.”
Commission Chair Vaughn Hartung, a Republican, said there were aspects of the bill he could support, just not the resolution as a whole.
Some of the changes people were advocating for, he added, needed to take place at the legislative level.
“The citizens coming forward are seeking legislative changes at the commission level and there is nothing I can do about it,” he said. “There is nothing I can do about same-day registration. That’s in state law. Do I agree with it? No, I don’t. I don’t think it works well.”
Welborn worried that even if the item wasn’t adopted in its entire form, if commissioners passed portions of the measures it could “set up a dangerous precedent” for those wanting changes to the election process based on bogus claims of voter fraud.
Jamie Rodriguez, a government affairs manager with the county, wrote in an overview of the proposal that some of the proposals provisions, including having the Nevada National Guard at each polling location, aren’t even in the purview of commissioners. The resolution was updated to change National Guard presence to sheriff’s deputies.
“Based on current staffing levels this request cannot be approved,” Rodriguez wrote. “It would require a sheriff at each of the voting locations, 25 for early voting that covers a 2-week period and at 65 locations on Election Day.”
The county doesn’t have the authority to pursue several aspects of Herman’s proposal, including purging voter registration after five years, verifying registration forms against the USCIS SAVE Program before they are entered into the system, and maintaining forensic material of the election for 10 years.
A few parts of the resolution, like ensuring Washoe County residents serve as poll workers, were deemed under the purview of the board but redundant. Rodriguez wrote that 98% of poll workers in the 2020 general election were already residents.
Another provision, such as ensuring “accuracy, security and purity of elections” might be something the county could act on, but Rodriguez wrote “given the vague nature of this item there could be other conflicts and fiscal impacts required to implement.”
Washoe County Assistant District Attorney Nathan Edwards wrote that election procedures fall under the purview of state law and “almost certainly not a matter of local concern.”
Citing Nevada’s status as a “Dillon’s Rule” state, which limits local government powers to those expressly granted by the state, Edwards wrote “if there is any doubt about the existence of a power the county contemplates exercising, it is presumed not to have that power.”
While a 2015 law granted boards of county commissioners a modified version of Dillion’s Rule that allows counties to address “matters of local concern” Edwards’ said the analysis “leads to the conclusion that election law” might not be included.
“This alone does not mean that the resolution is invalid,” he wrote. “But it does tilt the rest of the analysis under Nevada’s ‘modified’ Dillon’s Rule.”
In addition to potentially not having the power to enact election changes, the resolution would have cost the county nearly $5 million to implement changes, which included hiring more additional vote center workers.
Herman admitted there were other provisions she would have liked to consider for the resolution, like requiring photo identification, but said it was “not legal.”
The resolution isn’t the only measure being considered in Nevada counties.
Last week, Nye County officials voted to recommend the Nye County Clerk Sandra Merlino, who oversees elections, consider switching from electronic voting to hand-counting paper ballots. Some testifying before Washoe County Tuesday inaccurately asserted Nye approved the measure, when it only requested the clerk to consider the switch.
Merlino, who didn’t completely rule out a switch in the future, told Commissioners she couldn’t even consider the idea for the primary election.
Jim Marchant, a former Nevada Assemblyman who is running for state secretary of state, was joined by Republican figures who have promoted baseless election fraud conspiracy theories in presenting the proposal.
Lyon County is expected to hear another election proposal at a later date.
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