A conspiracy-fueled push to count ballots by hand is gaining traction
Nye County, a rural Nevada enclave, has positioned itself as the epicenter of a Donald Trump-fueled conspiracy over the security of electronic voting tabulators.
The Nye County Commission voted in March to make the county one of the first to act on false narratives that the machines that count the votes are rigged. County Clerk Mark Kampf, who falsely claimed Trump had won the 2020 election, said volunteer voters would hand-count the estimated 30,000 ballots expected in the November election.
Across the country, Trump-aligned Republicans have led anger over electronic voting machines, with Republicans in at least six states introducing legislation this year banning the use of ballot tabulators (Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, New Hampshire, Washington and West Virginia). More 90 percent of US electoral jurisdictions currently use electronic tabulators, with only smaller counties choosing to count votes by hand.
Many of the conspiracies around voting machines after the 2020 election have centered around technology from Dominion Voting Systems. Trump’s lawyers made baseless claims that Dominion employees were working with outside groups, liberal donor George Soros and Venezuela to steal the presidential race from Trump. Dominion filed several libel suits against those who peddled the conspiracies.
Voting experts say using manual counting as the default method of counting ballots, which requires all voters to vote on paper, is incredibly expensive, cumbersome and time-consuming.
“It’s totally unnecessary,” said Jonathan Diaz, senior legal counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. “There is no evidence or reason to suggest that ballot tabulators don’t work.”
In reality, Studies show that vote tabulators are more accurate than manual tallies, allowing for a large amount of human error, especially when the people counting the ballots are overworked and tired around an election.
Tabulators are usually certified by the United States Election Assistance Commission, and jurisdictions almost always test them before an election to ensure functionality and accuracy. Jurisdictions often count smaller groups of ballots by hand after using a tabulator to verify the accuracy of the results.
Tabulators also allow accessibility features to assist voters with disabilities who cannot mark a paper ballot by hand.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank that uses insights from both sides, recommends pairing automatic tabulators with an audit of paper ballots. “This balance minimizes the potential for human error in tabulation while maintaining a robust system of manual error checking to catch discrepancies that may arise during tabulation,” they said. write in an explanatory.
Diaz said he suspects those pushing manual counting aren’t actually concerned with tabulator safety.
“I don’t think the push for manual ballot counting is really driven by concerns about accuracy or technology,” he said. “I think it’s actually just an attempt to slow down the process and introduce more confusion and make things more difficult for election workers.”
To hand-count all of its ballots, Nye County plans to use three-person teams to examine batches of 50 ballots. Kampf said he had already recruited 57 volunteers to help with the process, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Kampf did not respond to an interview request.
As Nye County counts its ballots this year, it will also tally its votes with electronic machines. Officials said the aim was to eliminate the use of machines for future elections, but using both methods this year allows the county to avoid new state regulations for counties that only conduct manual counts.
In late August, the Nevada Secretary of State’s office announced temporary regulations that will take effect Oct. 1 for the general election, including a requirement for bipartisan counters. Nevada law does not prohibit manual counting, and the bureau wanted to be prepared if other counties decided to change.
Voting experts have said manual counting should not be allowed and therefore does not need to be regulated. In testimony filed to Mark Wlaschin, assistant secretary for elections, the Campaign Legal Center explained why manually counting ballots would not help with accuracy or speed.
“A manual count requirement would not only delay the reporting of results, but would also severely disrupt the ability of county officials to carry out their critical responsibility to conduct the election safely and accurately,” wrote attorney Julie Hochsztein.
The Nevada Progressive Leadership Alliance filed a complaint against the state after the regulations were announced, alleging that they deprive Nevadans of their rights to a uniform statewide standard for vote counting. The group declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.
“The temporary settlement threatens to trigger electoral chaos,” the complaint states, noting that “votes cast in different counties, different precincts, or different contests may be counted very differently.”
Current Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske is term-limited. Jim Marchant, an election denier who is the Republican nominee to replace her, was one of most vocal forces behind the state’s push to institute manual counting. He said if elected he would abandon electronic voting machines.
Democrat Cisco Aguilar, who will face Marchant in November, told the States Newsroom that he’s worried about the future of the Nevada election if Marchant wins.
“What he is doing is irresponsible and dangerous,” Aguilar said. “He is not a serious leader but the threat he poses is extremely serious.”
Esmeralda County in Nevada also switched to manual counting, but the county is the least populated in the state, with just 1,030 residents in 2020, according to U.S. Census data. Still, it took the county more than seven hours in the June primary to count 317 ballots.
At that rate, it would have taken 6,375 hours, or more than 265 days, for Clark County, Nevada’s most populous county, to hand count the 288,683 ballots cast in its June primary. Larger counties could undoubtedly dedicate more staff, volunteers and resources to the counting, but the process would undoubtedly force the county to miss the vote certification deadline.
The longer the public has to wait for election results, the more time candidates have to sow distrust in the results and for false theories and information to spread.
Outside of Nevada
In Arizona, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem, who both said the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, filed a lawsuit with unsubstantiated allegations about the security of electronic vote tabulators and requiring the manual counting of ballots. .
They claimed the lawsuit was not intended to invalidate the 2020 election results – Cyber Ninjas, who audited the vote in Maricopa County, did a hand count and found that Joe Biden had in fact won with more votes than the official margin – but instead said it was a future election.
In response to the lawsuit, election administrators testified that manual counting would be extremely expensive and would require immense labor. They also said electronic voting machines are not connected to the internet and cannot be hacked. A judge dismissed the suit in August, and Lake and Finchem have appealed this decision.
If Lake and Finchem win in November, they will be able to change the way the state counts its ballots. Arizona law does not require the use of electronic vote counting machines. The Secretary of State also has the power to decertify machines, so Finchem could do that and refuse to certify new ones.
In New Hampshire, groups opposed to electronic tabulators found a way to force election officials in major counties to manually count some ballots in last week’s primary, despite the widespread use of AccuVote optical scanning machines. in the state that are not connected to the internet and cannot be hacked.
Conservative-leaning groups shared messages online urging voters to write down candidates’ names, even if the candidate was already printed on the ballot. Ballots with written candidates are separated for manual counting.
Secretary of State David Scanlan said the effort slowed the release of results by several hours in some counties.
“It really stresses the system when you have election workers who have been working there for 12 to 4 p.m. and now have to count all those ballots at the end of the night,” Scanlan said. told a local reporter with the Keene Sentinel. “That probably increases the chance of errors.”