By GABE STERN, Associated Press/Report for America
RENO, Nev. (AP) — A rural Nevada county can start hand-counting mail-in ballots two weeks before Election Day, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday, but it won’t be allowed to livestream the tallying and must make other changes to its plans.
The ruling came in response to an emergency petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which challenged several aspects of Nye County’s plan to start hand-counting votes next week.
The ACLU said in its lawsuit that the plan risked leaking early voting results. It also said rules on touch screens to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act were too vague and restrictive, and that the violated state law with its “countystringent signature verification” for voter ID.
Located between Las Vegas and Reno, rural Nye County was one of the first jurisdictions nationwide to act on election conspiracies related to mistrust in voting machines.
Alongside the primary machine tabulation process, Interim County Clerk Mark Kampf’s plans to publicly hand-count all paper ballots. The hand-count was first proposed to county commissioners by Republican secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant in response to false claims about Dominion voting machines.
Sadmira Ramic, the ACLU of Nevada’s voting rights attorney, praised the ruling.
“It solidified our fight for access to the polls for Nye County voters, and democracy in general,” she said by phone.
Kampf did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
Friday’s ruling — which was largely but not completely in favor of the ACLU — said that observers of the public hand-count must sign a form promising not to disclose information about the early voting results before the official results are released.
Observers “are likely to learn election result information before the release of such information is statutorily authorized,” the justices wrote.
The justices also modified Nye County’s signature verification process to allow voters more options to verify who they are if their signature doesn’t match what’s on their voter forms.
Kampf previously said the county has the right to ask for a voter’s ID if their signature fails. The court ruled that voters should be made aware of all three methods of proving their identity: showing ID, answering questions about their personal data on the voter registration application, or providing other personal data.
The ACLU also argued that the county’s method of using a touch-screen tabulator for people with disabilities would illegally allow election workers to ask about a voter’s disability or turn away otherwise eligible voters based on “arbitrary decision making.” The ACLU also said Nye County’s wording of “special needs” to describe who accesses the tabulator is ambiguous.
Kampf had said at a county commission meeting that anybody who says they need to use the touch screen tabulator would be permitted to do so.
The justices ruled Kampf would have to stick to his word: the tabulator would be open to “all voters who seek it,” the judge ruled.
Nevada’s least populous county, Esmeralda, used hand-counting to certify June’s primary results, when officials spent more than seven hours counting 317 ballots cast. On Wednesday, Elko County’s board of commissioners discussed their support for hand-counting and paper ballots, although they will likely have no hand-count this cycle as it’s too close to when polls open.
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Stern on Twitter: @gabestern326.
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