LAS VEGAS (AP) — A rural Nevada county that has been ravaged by conspiracy theories about voting machines on Friday halted its unprecedented effort to count the votes cast ahead of Election Day.
But Nye County officials pledged to reshape their plan and get a new green light from the Nevada Supreme Court after judges ruled late Thursday that the counting methods used this week violated the rules they had put in place to prevent the province from allowing early disclosure of election results.
“Yesterday’s Supreme Court order requires that we make some changes to our enforcement process,” Nye County officials said in a statement released Friday, promising “to resume once our plan is consistent with the court order and has been approved by the Secretary of State.”
There was no counting on Saturday or Sunday, county spokesman Arnold Knightly said.
Attorneys for Nevada’s American Civil Liberties Union said Friday they stood ready to challenge any attempt to restart the hand counts next week. They don’t believe there is a hand counting scenario that would come through the law.
“Our position has always been that a general election is not an appropriate way to conduct experiments with electoral processes, and it has become increasingly clear that there is no legal way forward for this hand counting process,” said Sadmira Ramic, ACLU of Nevada’s suffrage attorney.
Volunteers spent hours counting hundreds of ballots Wednesday and Thursday before the court issued a unanimous three-page opinion following the ACLU’s objections.
The civil rights advocacy group accused Nye County officials of failing to prevent the public release of early results before the polls were close to the private vote on Nov. 8. .
On Wednesday, The Associated Press and other observers, including some from the ACLU, watched as volunteers were sworn in and grouped into six different rooms in a Nye County office building in Pahrump, 60 miles west of Las Vegas.
Some teams the AP observed spent about three hours each counting 50 ballots. Mismatches, where all three votes did not have the same number of votes for a candidate, led to recounts.
Immediately after Thursday’s court ruling, Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and Mark Wlaschin, the state’s top election officials, ordered the count to be halted until after polls close on Nov. 8.
“There should be no alternative counting process,” Cegavske said in a letter to Nye County interim secretary Mark Kampf, until the counting method complies with the Oct. 21 Supreme Court ruling.
Cegavske has been a GOP critic of voter fraud conspiracy theories that fueled manual ballot counting in the state. She defended the results of the 2020 elections as reliable and accurate, was censored by her party for her position, and is not seeking re-election.
The sprawling county between Las Vegas and Reno is home to approximately 50,000 residents, including approximately 33,000 registered voters. The province reported receiving nearly 4,700 ballots on Wednesday.
Ballots cast early — in person or by mail — are usually counted by machine on Election Day, and the results are released after the polls close. In most places, post-election hand counts are used on a limited basis to ensure machine counts are accurate.
Nye County Commissioners voted to hand-count all ballots after residents’ complaints echoed nearly two years of conspiracy theories related to voting machines and false claims proving that the 2020 presidential election was stolen former President Donald Trump.
Trump won 69% of the vote in Nye County, but Democratic President Joe Biden won Nevada by about 2.4%.
Kampf plans to use Dominion voting machines as primary voting tables for this election, but has floated the idea of scrapping the machines in future elections. The attempt to start counting votes by mail is a nod to the time the process takes and an attempt to meet the state’s certification deadline on Nov. 17.
Nye is the most prominent county in the US to change the vote counting process in response to the conspiracy theories – although there is no evidence of widespread fraud or machine manipulation in the 2020 elections, including in Nevada. The decision prompted the former municipal secretary to resign. Kampf was appointed to replace her.
Nevada has one of the most-watched US Senate races in the country, as well as high-stakes competitions for the governor and the office that oversees the election.
Republican candidate for Secretary of State Jim Marchant has reiterated baseless election claims and said he wants to spread the hand counting to every county in Nevada.
Athar Haseebullah, executive director of Nevada’s ACLU, pledged to continue to challenge any attempt to count hands in Nye County or elsewhere.
“While Nye County’s actions may be a sign of things to come, our response to their actions is also a sign of things to come,” Haseebullah said. “We will fight all attempts to destroy our democracy up and down Nevada. We welcome the fight.”
Associated Press writers Scott Sonner and Gabe Stern in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report. Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national, not-for-profit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on classified issues. Follow Stern on Twitter: @gabestern326
Associated Press coverage of democracy is supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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