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Douglas accused of voter rights act violation

Kurt Hildebrand
Nevada Appeal News Service

The conversion of the Dresslerville precinct to mailed ballots has prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to accuse Douglas County of violating the civil rights of Washoe voters.

In a letter to Douglas County Clerk-Treasurer Ted Thran, attorney Lee Rowland said the organization received complaints from the public about placing armed deputies at polling places and the removal of the voting machine.

Then-Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Griffin met with residents of Dresslerville when it appeared she would be short voting machines. In August, Griffin said that Nevada law permits converting precincts with fewer than 200 voters to mail-in ballots, similar to absentee ballots. Dresslerville has 104 registered voters.

Rowland said removing the voting machine may violate the voting rights act, which requires that the county not impose on the right of any citizen to vote in any way on account of race.

“We have had reports from the reservation that their percentage of registered voters voting in this year’s primary, the first vote after Douglas County eliminated the Reservation polling place, were dramatically lower than prior vote turnouts,” Rowland wrote.

The turnout in August’s primary election was generally dismal, both in Dresslerville and the rest of the county.

Of the 104 registered voters in the Dresslerville precinct, only 16 voted. Dresslerville is also the only precinct in Douglas County where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 70 to 12, with 21 nonpartisan voters. Half of the Republicans voted, but only 10 Democrats cast ballots and no nonpartisan voters.

That’s one vote fewer than the 17 who voted in the 2004 primary.

Rowland said Monday that the committee hadn’t looked at the actual turnout before sending the letter to Thran.

“One voter is not dramatic,” she said. “If it is indeed true they have not suffered a negative impact, then moving the voting machine is perfectly lawful. We’ve given the county an opportunity to show that.”

Several precincts’ voting locations have been consolidated this election due to a shortage of the machines.

Thran said all registered voters in Dresslerville are mailed a ballot that may be returned in a postage paid envelope, dropped off at a ballot box set up in the Dresslerville Senior Center or dropped off at the Minden Inn. In addition, Dresslerville precinct residents may vote at the Minden Inn both during early voting and on Election Day.

Douglas County’s longstanding practice of stationing uniformed officers at polling places also was called into question by the ACLU.

“The presence of armed guards is generally legal,” Rowland said.

Rowland said using plain clothes officers is considered best practices by the federal and state government for providing security at polling places. However, neither the state nor federal government operates polling places.

“Rowland claimed the deputies might suppress voter turnout.

During the last presidential election, armed officers apparently didn’t dissuade a record 92 percent of Douglas County’s registered voters from casting a ballot, Thran said.

– Kurt Hildebrand can be reached at khildebrand@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 215.