State can’t stop move to hand-counting paper ballots, so attempts to regulate it

By: - August 15, 2022 5:45 am

Republican Secretary of State candidate and 2020 election denier Jim Marchant in March urging Nye County to switch to hand-counted paper ballots. (Screengrab of Nye County Commission meeting)

Ahead of Nye County’s planned switch to hand-counting paper ballots, an idea borne from conspiracy theories around mass voting fraud that officials including Nye’s former elections clerk warned is prone to human error, the Nevada Secretary of State is attempting to provide some order to what election groups fear will be chaos.

The proposed temporary regulation, which received a public hearing Friday, would require the clerk to submit contingency plans to meet statutory deadlines for hand counts, ensure bipartisan counters and place requirements on counters such as wearing medical gloves and not being allowed to bring in outside pens. 

The regulation is expected to go through final passage Aug. 26 and would go into effect Sept. 30. 

Mark Wlaschin, the elections deputy with the Secretary of State’s office, said that there is no language preventing counties from switching to hand counting ballots. 

However, he argued if counties are deciding to make the switch there needs to be a standardized approach for transparency’s sake and to ensure counting is completed in time. 

“Until this regulation was proposed, there was no standardized process,” Wlaschin said. “So election officials in all 17 (counties) across our state were expected to, if they were going to conduct a hand count tabulation, make their own process and templates and conduct their own research.”

Jim Marchant, an election denier and candidate for Secretary of State, spent months speaking to various county commissioners, including Nye County in March, to convince them to move electronic voting systems arguing, without evidence, it was the only way to prevent widespread voter fraud.

Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, reviewed election fraud and irregularity allegations lodged by Nevada Republicans and found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Prior to retiring early, former Nye County Clerk Sandra Merlino, who served in the office about 20 years, warned hand counting paper ballots can lead to “a lot of error.”

Nye County, the state’s sixth largest with about 39,000 registered voters, is still moving forward with the switch for the November general election.

The Secretary of State’s office didn’t address some of the baseless allegations surrounding the 2020 election that have resulted in numerous proposals at the county level to make changes to the election process. 

Wlaschin said the office has been researching the hand-counting system for about a year and reached out to states including Arizona, New Hampshire, Kansas and Idaho to determine best practices. 

“We got a number of questions about California,” he added. “California did not provide any information in part because they don’t conduct hand counts in any jurisdiction in California in any way shape or form.”

He also noted that in jurisdictions in states where there are hand counts, the average number of voters is about 800. 

In a joint letter in opposition to the regulation sent to the Secretary of State ahead of the hearing, the ACLU of Nevada, the Brennan Center for Justice, Silver State Voices and All Voting is Local noted that Esmeralda County, which conducted a hand count during the June primary, took seven hours to count 317 ballots. 

The organizations are asking the office to prohibit hand counting rather than regulating it. 

The groups wrote that proposals to eliminate electronic voting are “being driven by unfounded claims about the unreliability of electronic tabulators currently in use, the devices’ vulnerability to hackers, and conspiracy theories about election fraud during the 2020 presidential election.”

They also noted that exclusively hand counting ballots not only violates state law but “diminishes the accuracy, efficiency, and security of elections.”

Mark Kampf, the newly appointed Nye County Clerk who falsely claimed former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election, called the regulations an overreach that would place increased financial costs on the county.

Members of the Nevada Republican Party and Washoe County Republican Party also criticized aspects of the proposed regulation. 

If adopted, the regulation would only be in effect for a year and expires Nov. 1, 2023, unless it goes through the permanent regulation process.

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.