By KEN RITTER Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Elected officials in one rural Nevada county decided Thursday to postpone until Friday certifying results of the 317 votes cast in their jurisdiction during the state’s June 14 primary election.
The decision in Esmeralda County, the least populous county in the state, comes a week after lawmakers in a Republican-leaning rural New Mexico county initially refused to certify their primary election results.
Esmeralda County Commission Chairman De Winsor and Vice-Chairman Timothy Hipp responded to complaints about the voting process with a promise to recount the votes themselves before an end-of-day Friday deadline set in state election law.
“The grassroots effort starts right here,” Winsor said midway through a contentious 90-minute meeting at which the three-member commission in the Republican-leaning county met to sign off on the results of the vote. “This is where we proved we do it right.”
Hipp was out of town and participated in the meeting by teleconference. He said he could be back in the county seat, Goldfield, by 2 p.m. Friday to begin counting ballots. Audio of the meeting was streamed on the internet.
County District Attorney Robert Glennen III advised Winsor and Hipp that they could suspend the meeting to reconvene Friday at 2 p.m. He said they have until 11:59 p.m. under state election law to finish.
The third commissioner, Ralph Keyes, said he was already willing to accept the count of the vote conducted by county officials — including a hand-count on Wednesday by county employees of the 177 paper ballots and paper records of 140 votes that county Clerk LaCinda Elgan said were tallied by machine.
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 U.S. Senate, Congress, governor, state attorney general and the top elections official in Nevada, the secretary of state.
But lawyers at the Nevada Attorney General’s Office were researching state law Thursday for guidance about the effect of a county refusing to certify the results by Friday’s deadline, spokesman John Sadler said. He said to his knowledge, that had never happened before in Nevada.
State law makes county lawmakers’ roles “ministerial only,” Attorney General Aaron Ford said in a Wednesday statement responding to questions from The Associated Press. If county commissioners or elections officials refused “based on posturing designed to undermine faith in our democratic process,” the statement said, “the state will proceed with legal options.”
Eight rural Nevada counties have approved their so-called canvass of the primary vote since Tuesday, including Lyon County on Thursday afternoon. Esmeralda and eight others — including Clark County, covering the Las Vegas area, and Washoe County covering the Reno area — are scheduled to Friday.
The results from Nevada’s 17 counties go to the secretary of state, who “cannot reject or otherwise not accept the results,” said Jennifer Russell, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican.
“If a Nevada county refuses to certify, we would work with the (state attorney general’s) office to determine a path forward,” Russell said.
The standoff in Nevada bore some echoes of concerns raised in rural New Mexico’s Republican-leaning Otero County, where commissioners stalled before splitting their vote and approving election results. Officials there cited unspecified concerns with Dominion voting systems, a target of widespread conspiracy theories since the 2020 presidential election.
New Mexico’s Democratic secretary of state appealed to that state’s Supreme Court to intervene before two commissioners relented — complaining that they felt they were little more than rubber-stamps.
In email and in-person comments protesting the Esmeralda County primary vote, resident Mary Jane Zakas made no reference to New Mexico.
But she alleged that “hot dog tongs could have breached” ballot boxes that she said didn’t meet security standards; that partisan workers drove ballots from a remote polling place to Goldfield; and that a Dominion representative provided assistance to an election worker. Zakas said that showed the poll worker wasn’t properly trained.
Elgan responded that the worker was trained, but the Dominion representative helped when a computer briefly malfunctioned.
Zakas also alleged in her email that “the vote could have been flipped or tampered with” during the five minutes she said a poll worker carried a thumb drive from a vote tally computer out of a room.
In audio streamed from the meeting, an election official, possibly Elgan, responded that a printer was in the other room and that a printer would be installed in the counting room for the general election.
Elgan did not immediately respond later to telephone and email messages from AP.
“We’ve got a problem. People don’t trust the system,” Zakas told the commissioners. “We’ve got a situation where a lot of people are really concerned about the safety of their votes.”
Esmeralda County, a former mining boom area, is about halfway between Las Vegas and Reno. It is home to fewer than 1,000 residents. Nearly 54% of the county’s 621 active registered voters are Republicans, according to the Nevada Secretary of State, and more than 25% are non-partisan.
President Donald Trump won 82% of the vote in Esmeralda County in 2020.