Nye County commissioners endorse hand count, paper ballots

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LAS VEGAS — Nye County commissioners say they want paper votes counted by hand during primary and general elections this year, although their top elections official said Wednesday she can't immediately commit enough staffing or supplies and doesn't have regulations to follow.
"It would be physically impossible for me to implement this for the (June 14) primary election," Nye County Clerk Sandra Merlino told The Associated Press following the all-Republican County Commission's unanimous Tuesday vote endorsing the measures. "I have made a commitment to look at it."
Merlino, an elected official who has had her job since 2000, has authority to accept or reject the recommendation from the five-member commission.
It followed presentations from several speakers on unproven conspiracies and doubts about the results of the 2020 election, according to media reports.
Commissioner Debra Strickland called for the vote, saying she wanted to reassure county voters that their voice is heard and their ballots are accurately recorded, the Nevada Independent reported.
Strickland did not immediately respond Wednesday to a telephone message from The Associated Press.
The commission action made Nye County the latest jurisdiction in Nevada and several other electoral battleground states where GOP lawmakers have taken steps to ban electronic balloting and tallies.
In Reno, Washoe County commissioners last month tabled a sweeping proposal to return to mostly paper ballots and to post National Guard troops at voting sites. The district attorney said he needed to review the legality of the idea.
Some commissioners there balked and the biggest casino labor union in the state, representing 60,000 workers, said having soldiers at polls would discourage Black and Indigenous voters as well as other people of color from casting ballots. The Reno Gazette Journal printed a rare front-page editorial saying the move could cost taxpayers "millions of dollars to chase down Facebook rumors of illusory election fraud."
Some proponents of hand-counting have cited mistrust of election results amid ongoing false narratives that widespread fraud cost former President Donald Trump a victory in the 2020 presidential contest.
Emily Persaud-Zamora, head of an activist progressive group called Silver State Voices, said in a statement Wednesday that a switch to paper ballots would increase lines at polls and hand-counting would delay results.
"Voter suppression is rooted in restricting the access for eligible voters to cast their ballots," she said. "These proposed tactics aim to disenfranchise voters and do nothing to make our elections safer."
Merlino, a Republican, said the 2020 election in Nye County was "a free and fair contest."
"All pre-tests and post-tests were accurate," she said, adding, "The votes were definitely along party lines."
Nye County favored Trump with 69% of the vote compared to 29% for Democratic President Joe Biden. About 25,500 votes were cast in Nye, one of the nation's largest geographic counties. It's home to the former Nevada Test Site nuclear weapons proving ground and about 50,000 people. Most live in Pahrump, 60 miles from Las Vegas, and Tonopah, a more than two-hour drive north.
Statewide, more than 1.4 million votes were cast and Biden won Nevada by 33,596 votes, or nearly 2.4%. Lawsuits challenging the results were dismissed.
Nevada's top election official, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, said repeatedly she found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Merlino promised to provide information to Nye County commissioners in coming months about resources she would need to hand-count paper ballots in November. She said she expected she would need at least double the approximately 50 people she hires for elections.
With early primary voting set to start May 28, Nye County plans to send out more than 30,000 ballots in coming weeks. Merlino said going to all-paper might mean ordering another 20,000 ballots to have enough at the polls.
She called human error during counting "a very great possibility."
"There are no laws or regulations in our state addressing all-paper ballots, a hand count, and meeting all of our statutory requirements by conducting a hand count," she told AP. "Right now, that is my main concern."


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