By Mark Waite
TONOPAH — A recount Tuesday requested by Andrew “Andy” Alberti Jr., a candidate for Nye County’s District 3 commission seat, showed the results unchanged from primary election night, when he lost by two votes to Donna Cox.
Cox won 179 votes to advance to the general election Nov. 6 to face Kenneth Searles, the front-runner in the primary, who garnered 202 votes. Alberti had 177 votes.
Ironically, Alberti, who ran against County Clerk Sam Merlino two years ago but lost in the primary, had alleged back then there were problems with the accuracy of the voting machines.
In a 2010 interview, Alberti said, “I was concerned that she doesn’t verify the accuracy of each machine that goes out to the precincts.” He advocated for paper copies of ballots for the voters.
After taking the 165-mile trip each way from Pahrump to Tonopah with former Pahrump Town Manager Dave Richards for the recount, Alberti said Merlino treated them very fairly. But he was disappointed in the process.
Nevada Revised Statute 293.404 requires a recount of ballots from no less than 5 percent of the precincts, or no less than three precincts, which was what Merlino did. The machines allow the recreation of a paper ballot for each machine for all the votes, Merlino said.
“The law says now we don’t do a hand count,” Merlino said. “Because there was no discrepancy when we ran it through the machines we didn’t hand count.”
During the Tuesday recount, one election board member read machine vote counts, other workers verified whether the votes were cast in the correct precinct and whether there was a district three commission race on the ballot.
“Now because they don’t ask for a hand count, it’s only an examination by the board. We provided those recreated ballots from the machines to the board,” Merlino said. “We had them examine them as thoroughly as we could without doing a hand count.”
The election board has to consist of representatives of different parties, Alberti said there were two Democrats, an independent and a Republican.
Alberti was charged a $300 deposit, about what it cost in the recount of the primary race between County Commissioner Butch Borasky and Carl Moore Sr. in the 2010 district four race that resulted in a tie. The recount didn’t change the outcome in that race, both Borasky and Moore had 381 votes, Cox was last with 250. Borasky won the primary after a draw of cards to settle the tie.
Alberti said, “I never did get a recount. This is a change in the law. I’m a citizen who’s reading the law, but the way I read it and my understanding yesterday when we went up there, they took a sampling of three precincts and verified whether there were any errors in the count and finding no errors, they declined my request for a recount.”
He called it “a survey” rather than a recount and said the county clerk could’ve checked all six precincts in his district.
“There’s no restrictions on the amount of precincts that she could count but in no case fewer than three. So she picked the minimum which was three. We requested she count all of them, since there were six, she said she has a policy where she’s going to follow the minimum only,” Alberti said.
The county clerk’s office should at least pay him his $300 deposit back, he said, which by state law is refunded to the person who prevails in a recount. Merlino said Alberti will only have to pay $128, the cost of the election workers for the recount which took about four hours; he’ll get a check for $172 back.
Alberti repeated his concerns with the voting machines.
“When they go to certify the machines to vote, the voting machines, the tabulators, they don’t sample them all. So there could be machines in there that don’t work properly, some that do, and if they never find the ones that don’t work properly, we don’t know unless they’re included in the test,” Alberti said.
Merlino said she explained for a half hour to Alberti how the voting machines are tested.
Alberti said the only action taken Tuesday was to look at the electronic card to see if the card matched a paper ballot.
“That doesn’t tell me if the machines are all accurate and they didn’t count all of the absentee ballots. They only counted a portion of them. To me that’s not a recount,” Alberti said.
“I’m comfortable that the count didn’t show up any difference between what was in the electronic devices and what the printout had,” he said. “I just think the process needs to be done so people have confidence in the way things work.”
Merlino was confident going into the process the count wouldn’t change, but added, “the only place people think things could change is the absentee.”
“We’ve never been off on a recount. The machines are so accurate and I did go over a lot of the election process with him, to make him more comfortable with all the checks and balances that we have,” Merlino said.
But Merlino said she also disagrees with the changes in the law on recounts and sympathizes with Alberti. She said, “I don’t necessarily agree with this process.”
The recount of the Borasky-Moore race was done by hand, she said, before the change in the law.
“It was easier because what does an examination of the ballots mean? The district attorney thought it was very vague and he agreed with how I handled it,” Merlino said.
State law requires a person requesting a recount to file that request within three days of the canvassing of votes and certification by the county clerk. Nye County commissioners canvassed the votes June 19.
If the recount shows a discrepancy of 1 percent, or five votes, whichever is greater for the candidate demanding the recount, the county clerk will order a recount of all the ballots. Merlino said she would order all ballots be recounted by hand if they were even one vote off.
Merlino defended her decision to only recount three precincts instead of all six.
“I said if I let you do six that sets precedence so if there’s a county race in the future I have to do all the precincts. I felt like if I did something different for him, I would have to do it for everybody in the future,” Merlino said.
Nye County went from optical scanners to a touch-screen computer voting system in accordance with the Help America Vote Act in 2004.
Alberti ran on a platform as “the jobs commissioner.” This year was his third unsuccessful run for a Nye County office, he was a candidate in the district four county commission race in 2006 before redistricting. Alberti had won election to the school board twice in his native Long Island, New York and to the Orange County, California Republican Central Committee four times.
“Maybe I should be doing something else other than going to bat for people who live here,” Alberti said.
While Cox said Alberti shares a lot of her philosophy, including support for presidential candidate Ron Paul, Alberti said he has a different style, preferring to change things working on the inside.