The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada asked the state’s secretary of state on Wednesday to investigate what it called a “coordinated partisan election management effort” during Nye County’s mail-in ballot count that closed last week.
The ACLU said a hand-counting volunteer openly holding a firearm removed an ACLU observer from a hand-counting room, which the organization said it recently discovered was Nye County GOP Central Committee Vice Chairwoman Laura Larsen .
The ACLU said the situation “raises questions” about Nye County Clerk Interim Mark Kampf’s delegation of authority to party officials to remove observers from counting rooms, particularly during a hand-counting process that deals with classification of ballots.
“A party official from the Nye County GOP Central Committee given free rein to roam the halls and remove those engaged in observation violates the basic principles of free and safe elections and makes an even greater mockery of our democracy,” ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar. Haseebullah said in a statement.
It’s the latest development in a conflict between the rural county’s election administration and the ACLU that has led to lawsuits, infighting and a Nevada Supreme Court ruling late on Oct. 27 that prompted Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, to close hand- countdown until the polls close on election day.
Several ACLU members showed up for the first day of the hand count Wednesday in Pahrump, an hour outside Las Vegas, with three people signed on as observers.
Kampf said last week that the ACLU observer in question was suspected of counting votes, which is prohibited when observing a hand count. Volunteers locked the entrance hall door leading to the counting rooms by hand because of the incident with the ACLU, several volunteers said at the time. A volunteer was responsible for opening the door for all observers or volunteers entering.
A Nye County spokesman did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Wednesday night. Neither Larsen nor the Nye County GOP Central Committee.
Nye County halted the hand count process Friday due to orders from the secretary of state’s office about early release of results after two days of counting. It came in response to a new opinion from the Nevada Supreme Court in favor of the Nevada Chapter of the ACLU, which argued, among other things, that the ballot counting risked the release of early election counts.
They cannot go ahead until the polls close on Election Day, although Kampf said at a Nye County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday that he submitted a new counting plan to the secretary of state’s office that he hoped would be approved this week. The Supreme Court ruling that challenged the reading of the ballots aloud said it was up to the secretary of state and the county to ensure the legality of the hand count.
Larsen was present on both days of the hand count, acting in what appeared to be an assistant to Kampf, who had vowed months ago to bring the hand count to the rural county at the request of the county commission.
He often went to different hand counting rooms to make sure the hand counting teams — consisting of a reader, a verifier and three counters — had materials and were counting correctly.
On the first day, when a reader was struggling to announce the candidates, Larsen walked into the counting room, sat in the reader’s chair and read the names herself to demonstrate the proper cadence to announce the names.
The reader apologized and Larsen said “It’s better to get it right than not get it right at all. Don’t say you’re sorry.”
In an interview after the first day of hand counting, Larsen said her role was “to make sure things go the way Mark (Kampf) has set everything up. So we’re just looking out for electoral integrity.”
Kampf has described the county’s Dominion tablet machines as a possible stopgap measure while she decides how to handle imputations for future elections. But machines will remain the primary recording mechanism for this election, despite hand counting.
Nye County, home to about 50,000 residents, including about 33,000 registered voters, is the most prominent U.S. county to change its vote-counting process in response to conspiracy theories — even though there is no evidence of widespread fraud or machine manipulation in the 2020 election .
Nye County commissioners voted to count all ballots after complaints from residents echoed nearly two years of conspiracy theories related to voting machines and false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by former President Donald Trump. That came as Republican secretary of state nominee Jim Marchand repeated unsubstantiated election claims to commissioners, who persuaded them to call for a recount.
The most populous county in the continental US based solely on hand counting is Owyhee County, Idaho, which has one-fifth the number of registered voters as Nye County.