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ACLU: Gun-toting GOP official kicked observer out of Nye ballot counting

Updated November 3, 2022 - 4:04 pm

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada announced Tuesday that it filed a complaint with the Nevada secretary of state requesting an investigation into “coordinated partisan election administration efforts in Nye County” after one of the group’s observers was removed last week from an observation room by a person openly carrying a gun.

On Oct. 26 an observer with the ACLU of Nevada was watching the ballot hand count process — before the secretary of state had ordered the process to be halted — when an individual who was thought to be a Nye County employee and was openly carrying a gun removed the observer and demanded she turn over her notes, according to a statement from the ACLU of Nevada.

The observer rejected the demand to turn over their notes and left the scene “to avoid being accused of causing a disturbance,” the statement said. The ACLU of Nevada learned that the individual who was armed was not a county employee but Nye County Republican Party Central Committee Vice Chair Laura Larsen. Nye County declined to comment for the story, and Larsen did not return a request for comment.

The ACLU of Nevada wrote that the confrontation poses questions surrounding Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf’s delegation of authority to partisan officials, “including the authority to freely roam the areas where ballots were being counted and to remove observers from observation areas.”

The confrontation also raised questions regarding ballot security and the policies the Nevada secretary of state has in place to protect observers.

“A partisan official from the Nye County GOP Central Committee given free range to roam the halls and remove those engaging in observation violates the core principles underlying free and safe elections and makes an even greater mockery of our democracy,” said ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar Haseebullah in the statement.

Haseebullah said the ACLU of Nevada anticipates a “swift and thorough” investigation into Nye County’s actions by the secretary of state.

“Know this, if the Secretary of State’s office should decline to provide assurances that it will properly and fully investigate this matter and to assess the collusion occurring between the Nye County government and partisan actors, we will seek recourse elsewhere,” Haseebullah said.

Open carry allowed

Nevada is an open-carry state, meaning that people are permitted to openly carry firearms across Nevada without the need for special permits; guns cannot be carried in certain designated places such as government buildings, federal property, schools and airports, according to the Las Vegas Defense Group.

Nye County and the ACLU of Nevada, as well as the Nevada secretary of state’s office, have been entwined in a legal battle over the election process since Nye County, largely influenced by stolen-election conspiracy theories that electronic tabulators were not secure, pushed to hand count its ballots in the midterms.

The ACLU of Nevada partially won challenges to stop Nye County from hand counting temporarily. Nevada Supreme Court judges ordered the county to stop its livestream that would show workers hand counting and reading results aloud, ruling that it violated state law prohibiting publishing election results before all ballots have been cast.

Nye County’s plans had involved a tally team of three people who each take turns counting batches of 50 ballots as a reader reads aloud the results, but the ACLU of Nevada argued that violated state election law by allowing observers to prematurely learn election results before the polls close.

The Supreme Court judges ordered the county to require all observers to certify that they will not release any information regarding the vote count before the polls close. After that, Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske ordered last week the county to halt its hand counting as a whole.

Plan for silent counting

In response, Nye County on Wednesday sent documents to the secretary of state’s office explaining a plan to hand count ballots silently. The county, through a spokesman, declined to make the documents available, as did the secretary of state’s office, which said they were under review.

But the plans were obtained by the Review-Journal. They call for the three talliers to work in silence instead of reading the ballot out loud. Each of the three talliers reads the first side of each ballot individually and enters the candidate’s names on the recount tally sheet. When the first side is complete, the tallier will pass the ballot to the next tallier, and the ballots progress through a linear process, according to the plans.

The talliers will total their hash marks, sign their tally sheet, and then all three tally sheets will be assembled with the ballot batch and placed in the outbox. Then a batch runner will pick up the tallied batches and deliver them to the control team.

“If there is any discrepancy or ‘mismatch,’ a recount of the contest or ballot issue in error will be performed by a different tally team. If more than two recounts are required, the batch will be sent for a total recount,” the plans say.

When all three ballot and recount tally sheets agree on the number of votes for candidates and ballot questions, the control team will have two independent verifiers sign the batch control log and each sheet to verify the correct total, according to the plans.

The ACLU of Nevada could not comment on Nye County’s latest proposal until its lawyers reviewed the documents.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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