Inside Churchill’s County’s election process | NevadaAppeal.com

Inside Churchill’s County’s election process

Aly Lawson
alawson@lahontanvalleynews.com

Blank absentee ballots are organized by precinct before being mailed out and will start being opened for organizing this week. The Churchill County Clerk/Treasurer’s Office lives and breathes by the latest Nevada Elections book (in blue) that contains related Nevada Revised Statutes and Nevada Administrative Code as well as the state’s constitution.

Taking the LVN behind the scenes as well as presenting information to the Rotary Club of Fallon, the Churchill County Clerk/Treasurer's Office explained what it takes to put on an election.

Clerk/Treasurer Kelly Helton said she remembers when voting meant punch cards and taking ballots around town to the various previous polling places such as Oats Park and the fire station. The new software adds security and ease to the election process in addition to its computerized voting and electronic poll books for workers.

Helton said elections have always been secure but especially during heated campaigns, it's important to reiterate and have the latest advantages and standards in place.

She added a handful of times in Nevada's history, the option to select "non of these candidates" won out for some of the races. The next highest candidate wins, but it says something, she said.

Early voting hours are today through Friday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. in the Commission Chambers at 155 N. Taylor St. Absentee ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

"Our office, we have to be so nonpartisan," Helton said, emphasizing how non-political and unbiased the election process is.

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The county clerk mentioned she sees both sides of the story. While Helton is a Republican, her son is a Democrat who runs campaigns in Washoe County.

Helton and Linda Rothery, chief deputy clerk/treasurer, described how many people think voter registration is busy only right before an election, but it's a year-round job — handled by Erin Montalvo, deputy clerk/treasurer. They said how Montalvo juggles election work too.

Montalvo noted how having a military community adds a significant amount of absentee ballots. Military families come to call the area home then move away or overseas and request absentee voting.

Another challenge for the office was how the Department of Motor Vehicles' voter registration process was being revamped in an ongoing election. Election season also starts early for the office with judges having to file in January while other candidates file in March.

That begins the process of everyone involved in elections checking everything at every stage, from the candidate list submitted to the Nevada Secretary of State to proofing ballots multiple times. The poll book database is eventually loaded and audited as well as every precinct's ballot style tested on the touch-screen voting computers. There's also a Logic and Accuracy Board, which has a pattern it runs based on the ballot, and other assurance boards.

"It's so slick," Rothery said of the final poll books' voter registration database that can be used right at the polling place as a special laptop. "And the new software is amazing." She added that Churchill was the second county after Carson City to start using the latest technology; Las Vegas will start using it in their next city election.

The data stays on the laptop, verifies signatures, prints labels and more. There's no chance for poll worker error anymore, they said, since any information mistake is caught automatically.

"It's incredible, it's just incredible," Helton said.

She went on to say the county's 82 voting machines work like personal computers and have been running strong for a decade. Dominion Voting Systems is the hardware vendor. She added that the Churchill County Board of Commissioners has a 2018 goal for possible tablet use.

When early voting closes Friday, the team who worked through Nevada Day will close every machine, snip, seal, run reports and create the voter-verified paper trails. They'll also verify the voting cartridges before being sealed in a pouch and locked in the vault until Election Day for processing. After the poll closes at 7 p.m. on Election Day and all polls are closed statewide, the county can transmit their tally.

Through meetings with other clerks, Helton has seen the obstacles other cities, communities and townships face. She emphasized how only in Fallon has she witnessed such cooperation in putting on an election. For example, the post office lets her office know if there are ballots that need to be picked up.

Since opening Oct. 22 through Monday, early voting counts total 4,760 in person and 617 absentee ballots. And there have been 3,260 Republican, 1,122 Democrat and 995 Independent ballots cast.

Early voting hours are today through Friday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. in the Commission Chambers at 155 N. Taylor St. Absentee ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Election Day hours on Tuesday are 7 a.m.-7 p.m. at the Fallon Convention Center at 100 Campus Way.

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