Nevada counties review election results amid false claims

Ken Ritter and Gabe Stern
Associated Press

Reno, Nev. – Dozens of residents urged commissioners in northern Nevada’s largest city on Friday not to certify results of the June 14 primary, repeating many of the false claims and conspiracy theories that nearly derailed the certification process in New Mexico a week ago.

County commissioners across Nevada were holding public meetings ahead of a midnight deadline to sign off on the results – historically, a routine and ministerial task that follows checks by local election officials to ensure the accuracy and validity of the vote. By midday, 14 Nevada counties – including Reno’s Washoe County – had voted to certify.

Members of the audience watch Washoe County Government Affairs Manager Jaime Rodriguez, and Assistant Registrar of Voters Heather Carmen speak during a county Board of Commissioners meeting called in Reno, Nev., on Friday, June 24, 2022, to certify the vote of the June 14, 2022, primary.

Later Friday, commissioners in tiny Esmeralda County planned to reconvene their meeting and hand-count all 317 ballots that were cast, after residents raised concerns at their certification meeting that began Thursday.

In Reno, commissioners heard from several residents who said they objected to state law sending mail ballots to every registered voter. Some complained of receiving multiple ballots in their name or for people no longer living at their address, arguing this was proof of fraud and the election was corrupt.

Washoe County Government Affairs Manager Jaime Rodriguez, left, and Assistant Registrar of Voters Heather Carmen speak during a county Board of Commissioners meeting called in Reno, Nev., on Friday, June 24, 2022, to certify the vote of the June 14, 2022, primary.

But there are multiple checks built into the system, including signature verification and ballot tracking to ensure that one person can only cast one ballot that is counted. Election officials have procedures in place to identify people submitting multiple ballots or voting more than once. They do not count more than one ballot.

In Nye County, commissioners expressed what Chairman Frank Carbone called “a little bit of concern about the process” but approved the results on a 4-1 vote,

“Just too many issues,” Vice Chairman Leo Blundo said as he cast the “no” vote.

County Clerk Sam Merlino said that 12,450 ballots were cast in the sprawling county home to about 50,000 people and a predominantly conservative Republican area where the board voted in April to quit using Dominion voting systems.

Six ballots were rejected, Merlino said, including two that arrived in one mailed envelope. Six people tried to vote twice, Merlino added, including two who changed parties during early voting and cast ballots in both Democratic and Republican primaries. She said those cases were referred to state elections officials for investigation.

At one point during the Washoe County debate, a woman in the audience chanted “Biden cheated, Biden cheated!” as a speaker mentioned former President Donald Trump’s claims about a stolen election. One man wore a “Biden is NOT my president” cap while he urged commissioners not to certify.

Nearly two hours after the meeting began, commissioners voted 4-1 to certify results.

Besides Esmeralda County, certification was still pending in Douglas and Clark counties. Clark County includes Las Vegas.

The 2020 election continues to dominate public discourse around voting and elections in the U.S., as Trump supporters and allies repeat claims without evidence that the presidency was stolen from Trump.

Even before the November 2020 election, Trump was telling his supporters that fraud was the only way he could lose, pointing mostly – and without evidence – to the expansion of mail-in voting during the pandemic.

In the months since, there has been no evidence to support the claims. They have been dismissed by dozens of judges, by Trump’s attorney general at the time, and by a coalition of federal and state election and cybersecurity officials who called the 2020 vote the “most secure” in U.S. history.

But the false claims prompted commissioners last week in rural Otero County, New Mexico, to initially refuse to certify results from their June 7 primary. After a showdown with the secretary of state and an order by the New Mexico Supreme Court to certify, the commissioners voted 2-1 to sign off on the election and avert a broader crisis.

The delay in Nevada’s Esmeralda County – where Trump won 82% of the vote in 2020 – occurred amid distrust by voters fueled by unfounded voting machine conspiracies that have spread in the U.S. over the past two years. It drew intense attention to tiny Goldfield, a former mining boom town about halfway between Las Vegas and Reno.

Commission Chairman De Winsor and Vice-Chairman Timothy Hipp planned to meet at 2 p.m., ahead off an 11:59 p.m. deadline to approve the canvass. The results will be forwarded to the secretary of state’s office, as required under state law.

Fellow Commissioner Ralph Keyes said he was already willing to accept the count of the vote conducted by county officials.

Esmeralda County Clerk-Treasurer LaCinda Elgan, in a telephone interview, called the primary “absolutely safe and fair.” One vote cast on one ballot was unintelligible, she told The Associated Press, but all ballots were tallied and reported. None was rejected.

It did not appear the number of votes in question could affect results of primary contests that chose candidates for federal and state offices including Congress, governor, state attorney general and the top elections official in Nevada, the secretary of state.

Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat who on Wednesday characterized canvasses of votes as “ministerial only,” told AP that the state would respond with “legal options” if county commissioners or elections officials balked “based on posturing designed to undermine faith in our democratic process.”

Esmeralda County’s three commissioners voted in April to join commissioners in neighboring Nye County calling for elections to be conducted entirely by hand, including the counting of ballots.

Election experts say hand-counting of ballots is not only less accurate but extremely labor-intensive, potentially delaying results by weeks if not months in larger counties. They also say it’s unnecessary because voting equipment is tested before and after elections to ensure ballots are read and tallied correctly.

Elgan and Merlino both said they did not believe it was feasible to stop using electronic voting equipment this year. Both are elected officials with power to act independent of their county commissions.

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Associated Press writers Scott Sonner in Reno, Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Christina Almeida Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report. 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.