Nye County ballot counting a ‘historic disaster’ at a ‘snail’s pace,’ ACLU says

By: - October 27, 2022 6:33 am

Notes from an ACLU observer at Nye County’s first day of hand counting ballots Wednesday. The photo was posted on social media by ACLU Executive Director Athar Haseebullah. “‘Oh shoot’ is right,” Haseebullah commented.

A painfully slow count, casually releasing results early, and an armed volunteer ordering around an election observer all marked the first day of counting ballots by hand in Nye County.

“It’s an embarrassing day for our democracy,” Athar Haseebullah, the executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said in a statement. “A historic disaster is brewing in Nye County.”

Nye County officially began hand-counting ballots, a move adopted at the behest of election deniers, on Wednesday, less than a week after the Nevada Supreme Court unanimously ruled to make changes to the county’s proposed hand-counting process. The ACLU filed the lawsuit in early October. 

Members of the ACLU of Nevada went to observe the first day of counting and said they saw tally teams reading aloud which candidates are selected on ballots and disclosing information to observers in the room.  

The court ruled Oct. 21 that Nye County couldn’t livestream results as it intended and required observers to not release information regarding the election results before Election Day.

Haseebullah said the count was moving at a “snail’s pace” and tally teams frequently lost count. 

A member of the ACLU of Nevada team, Haseebullah said, was escorted out of a counting room by an armed volunteer, who then “demanded access to the observer’s notebook.”

In a letter sent to the secretary of states’ office Tuesday ahead of the county starting its hand count, Sadmira Ramic, a voting rights attorney with the ACLU of Nevada, said Nye’s new process “is in violation of the Order of the Nevada Supreme Court” and urged the office to inform Nye County “that their intended actions do not comply with the direct order of the Court.”

The secretary of state’s office declined to comment for this story.  

At the request of the secretary of state’s office, attorneys with Marquis Aurbach, which represents Nye County and its interim election clerk Mark Kampf, submitted a letter Monday agreeing to provide new conditions going forward with the count that including setting up six different rooms tallying ballots to prevent observers from learning the results.

Attorneys argued the court “did not explicitly bar the ‘read-aloud’ element of the County’s hand count process.”

But Ramic said the county is misinterpreting how the court ruled on reading vote tally results aloud and warned if Nye proceeded as intended it would be unlawful.

“The Court mandated Nye County and Mark Kampf to take two separate actions,” Ramic wrote.  

She said one action was to “require all observers to certify that they will not prematurely release any information regarding the vote count process before then” and the other was to “ensure public observers do not prematurely learn any election results.” 

Nye County has faced pushback from voting organizations and legal groups, including the ACLU, since it began inching toward a switch to a hand counting ballots despite warnings from its long-time elections clerk it was prone to “a lot of error.” 

Republican secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant, an election denier who spreads conspiracy theories about voter fraud, first made a pitch to commissioners in March. Kampf, who has also falsely claimed that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, was appointed as interim election clerk in August, which paved the way for hand counting. 

Kampf told The Associated Press that he was not in communication with the secretary of state’s office since the ruling and was placing all correspondence in the hands of the contracted law firm Marquis Aurbach. 

The ACLU plans to ask the Nevada Supreme Court to issue a clarification of the ruling but hadn’t filed as of Wednesday evening. 

The secretary of state’s office approved a temporary regulation in August to put some requirements on counties conducting a hand-count, but the measure was amended based on feedback from election deniers. 

The regulation also exempted Nye from complying since it’s using a hand-counting process alongside mechanical tabulation.  

In a Twitter thread Wednesday, Haseebullah posted a picture of the note that the armed volunteer had wanted to see from the ACLU observer, which read in part, “One person said ‘oh shoot.’”

“‘Oh shoot’ is right,” Haseebullah commented, “The whole process and execution was sloppy and all over the place.”

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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.