They doubted Joe Biden’s win in 2020. Now, they’re poised to help run November’s elections in Nevada
Two counties in the crucial swing state of Nevada have appointed officials who have cast doubts about the 2020 election to oversee their elections this fall — raising alarms among voting rights advocates less than three months before Election Day.
In Northern Nevada, commissioners in Storey County, a rural county of roughly 4,000 people outside Reno, recently selected Jim Hindle, the vice chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, to serve as interim clerk-treasurer. Hindle was among the six Nevada Republicans who signed a false certificate purporting to give the state’s electoral votes to then-President Donald Trump in 2020 — despite Democrat Joe Biden winning this western battleground by more than 33,500 votes.
And in Southern Nevada, retired financial executive Mark Kampf will oversee fall elections in Nye County, a rural community with roughly 30,000 active voters. At a candidate debate earlier this year, Kampf falsely declared that Trump had won the 2020 election.
The moves come ahead of November, when Silver State voters will decide the outcome of several high-profile contests, including a US Senate race that could determine which party controls the chamber.
Some voting rights advocates in Nevada say recent developments at the county level in their state — including the push to hand-count ballots — are raising concerns about the security and accuracy of this year’s elections.
“The emergency that exists nationally has arrived in Nevada right now,” said Athar Haseebullah, the executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. “Voting rights and the process of voting are under siege.”
“It should be a five-alarm fire for people in the state who believe in democracy.”
The Republicans’ ascension to top local election posts come as distrust about voting machines has gripped some Republican-led counties in the state. Kampf now plans to test moving to paper ballots and hand-counting them in November’s general election — a controversial move approved earlier this year by the county’s commissioners.
Critics say hand-counting is a labor-intensive system that’s susceptible to human error and tampering and warn it could lead to delays in delivering election results.
But, faced with increasing demands in rural parts of Nevada to bypass voting machines, aides to Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican who has defended the integrity of the 2020 election, are drafting temporary regulations on how to count ballots by hand.
A hearing on adopting the rules is set for Friday.
In an interview with CNN this week, Kampf declined to discuss his contention that Trump had won the presidency in 2020. “As clerk, I really don’t want to talk about that because I don’t think it’s relevant to my task at hand,” he said.
“Everyone has an opinion. We’re all entitled to one,” he added, when pressed on his views on the 2020 election. “But when it comes to doing the job as the clerk, there is no way I would ever be anything but impartial.”
Hindle, who was named Storey County interim clerk-treasurer last week, did not respond to interview requests.
He will replace the current clerk, Doreayne “Dore” Nevin, who is leaving her post early after losing the June 14 GOP primary to him. Her resignation takes effect in mid-September.
Hindle is the only candidate on the ballot in November.
In an email to CNN, Storey County Manager Austin Osborne said the board of commissioners “found it appropriate to appoint him to fill the vacancy until such time that he automatically assumes the permanent role in that office.”
In Nye County, meanwhile, commissioners earlier this month voted 4-1 to install Kampf as the temporary replacement for longtime Republican clerk Sandra “Sam” Merlino.
Merlino has said she retired early rather than move forward with the commissioners’ request that she stop using vote-tallying machines and begin hand-counting paper ballots.
Kampf won the GOP primary for the position and is on the ballot in November, seeking a full term as clerk.
Former President Donald Trump and his allies have targeted Dominion Voting Systems with baseless claims that its machines used in 2020 were hacked and votes flipped. The company has filed multiple defamation lawsuits in response.
Nye — a sprawling county northwest of Las Vegas that’s nearly twice the physical size of New Hampshire — is at the forefront of a movement to ditch vote-tabulating machines in favor of hand-counting paper ballots.
The county, like most in Nevada, uses Dominion machines and backed Trump over Biden by more than 40 percentage points in 2020.
Jim Marchant, the GOP nominee for Nevada secretary of state who has helped organize a national slate of “America First,” election-denying candidates, has traveled the state, urging counties to shift to paper ballots counted by hand. Nye County commissioners voted 5-0 to do so following a March presentation by Marchant, a former state lawmaker.
Marchant did not respond to interview requests from CNN.
But earlier this month, he told Nye commissioners that he and Kampf were working together to develop a hand-counting system for the county that he hopes to “roll out all over the country.”
Other counties in the state have weighed the move.
In tiny Esmeralda County, for instance, commissioners hand-counted all 317 ballots cast in the June primary and certified the results with less than two hours before the state’s midnight deadline to do so.
In Washoe County, the second most populous in the state and home to Reno, a proposed shift to hand-counting was defeated 4-1 earlier this year, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.
State law does not specifically outlaw counting ballots by hand, and the secretary of state’s office began working on regulations more than a year ago “as we started to see some of our counties considering hand counting,” Jennifer Russell, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an email.
State officials say they are trying to develop a uniform standard for counting across the state and say the temporary rules will help ensure that county clerks do not have to craft procedures from scratch.
The draft rules specify how a hand count would work, including requiring bipartisan counters, setting guidelines on how many ballots to count at a time and banning personal “writing devices” by counters to guard against ballot-tampering.
If approved, they would take in effect on September 30 and expire in November 2023, under a version discussed last week.
Voting-rights groups, including the ACLU of Nevada, All Voting is Local and the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school, are urging Cegavske’s team to prohibit hand-counting as the primary way of tallying results rather than trying to regulate it.
“Rolling out a new election system so close to an election has extra risks. This would be a completely new way of counting votes,” Larry Norden, senior director of Brennan’s elections and government program, told CNN.
At a recent public workshop on the draft rules, Kampf criticized parts of the proposal as overreach and imposing an “undue burden” on counties.
Kampf told CNN that he plans to proceed in November with a dual-track system — using both vote-tabulating machines and hand-counting ballots “so I can show it can be done on a timely basis.”
Using the machines, he said, should exempt him from the proposed new regulations. And if the test works, Kampf said he wants to move entirely to hand-counting in future elections.
Kampf said voters in Nye no longer trust voting machines.
“My goal is to have a totally transparent process, so that voters can focus on who they are voting for, not how they are completing the voting,” he said.
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