WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, Oct. 27, Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R) sent a letter to Nye County, Nevada telling the county commissioner that the “current Nye County hand counting process must cease immediately.” This letter came soon after the Nevada Supreme Court released an order clarifying that Nye County’s current procedure, where poll observers overhear ballot selection tallies, violates state law that prevents the premature release of election results.
The state Supreme Court order stems from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada challenging Nye County’s announced plan to hand count the results of the midterm elections, along with conducting parallel electronic tabulation. Last Friday, Oct. 21, the Nevada Supreme Court granted some parts, but denied others, of the ACLU’s request. The court held that Nye County is prohibited from live streaming the vote counting process in which election results are read aloud prior to polls closing on Election Day. The court also found that the county’s strict signature verification procedures violate Nevada law, but the plan for touch screen voting options for voters with disabilities was permissible.
As a primary vote count method, experts agree that hand counting is significantly less accurate, more expensive and more time consuming than using electronic tabulation equipment. Nye County is a rural county with a population of over 50,000 that was pushed to conduct a hand count because of conspiracies about voting machines. On Wednesday, a group of volunteers began the count, processing 900 of the mail-in ballots that the county has received so far. The Associated Press reported that it took several groups three hours to count 50 ballots each, with mismatched totals and recounts. Volunteers appeared exasperated at how time consuming the effort was.
On Thursday, after witnessing the first day of hand counting, the ACLU filed an emergency motion for clarification in the Nevada Supreme Court asking it to immediately weigh in on whether the county was violating state law and the Oct. 21 court order if election workers “read aloud the content of ballots within hearing distance of public observers…even if (1) the observers certify that they will not share the information they receive as an observer and (2) will not have access to the totality of the vote count results.” The ACLU argued that even though observers are unable to aggregate the total election results, the oral announcement of ballot selection by the hand counters still creates a premature release of election results, which is prohibited by law. The Nevada Supreme Court agreed with the ACLU’s interpretation, clarifying that “observers may not be positioned so as to become privy to the ballot selections and room tallies” and leaving the specifics of the process for Nye County and and the Nevada secretary of state to determine.
In Cegavske’s letter, she not only called for the immediate cessation of the current hand counting process, but stated that “no alternative hand counting process may proceed until the Secretary of State and Nye County can determine whether there are any feasible ‘specifics of the hand-count process and observer positioning’ that do not ‘violate [the Supreme Court’s] mandate.’”