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LAS VEGAS – We could change the dateline now to GOLDFIELD, Nev. since John is there, add to the contributed line
‘AP photographer John Locher contributed from Goldfield, Nevada’ … and add SSonner to the Byline.
Dozens of residents urged commissioners in Nevada’s two largest counties on Friday not to certify results of the June 14 primary, some expressing doubt about the election by recounting their personal experiences and others repeating many of the false claims and conspiracy theories that nearly derailed the certification process in New Mexico a week ago.
County commissioners across Nevada were holding public meetings ahead of a midnight deadline to sign off on the results — historically, a routine and ministerial task that follows checks by local election officials to ensure the accuracy and validity of the vote. By the afternoon, 16 Nevada counties — including Reno’s Washoe County and Las Vegas’ Clark County — had voted to certify.
Commissioners in tiny Esmeralda County spent the afternoon hand-counting all 317 ballots that were cast, after residents raised concerns at their certification meeting that began Thursday. They expected to finished before the deadline.
In Reno, commissioners heard from several residents who said they objected to state law sending mail ballots to every registered voter. Some complained of receiving multiple ballots in their name or for people no longer living at their address, arguing this was proof of fraud and the election was corrupt.
But there are multiple checks built into the system, including signature verification and ballot tracking to ensure that one person can only cast one ballot that is counted. Election officials said Friday they do not count more than one ballot.
In Clark County, upset voters complained about a lack of transparency when ballots were tallied and problems with the state’s voter rolls, including some who said their party affiliations were changed. Others talked about being directed to specific voting machines if they were registered as Republicans.
Resident Charles Bossert said he received multiple ballots, but knew it was illegal to cast more than one so he only voted once. He asked commissioners to “stand in the gap and do what is right.”
“As a community, it feels like none of the votes count and democracy is dying in a lack of transparency,” Bossert said. “This is really a pivotal moment.”
County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria reported more than half of the 288,683 ballots cast were by mail and only a fraction of 1% involved discrepancies that ranged from voters going to the wrong precinct to people changing their party affiliation after submitting a mail ballot.
Helen Oseguera, a Republican candidate for county assessor, called the commissioners liars and cheaters.
The audience erupted with boos after the unanimous vote to certify, and people promised court action to challenge the election.
Commissioners in Nye County expressed what Chairman Frank Carbone called “a little bit of concern about the process” but approved the results on a 4-1 vote.
“Just too many issues,” Vice Chairman Leo Blundo said as he cast the “no” vote.
County Clerk Sam Merlino said that 12,450 ballots were cast in the sprawling county home to about 50,000 people and a predominantly conservative Republican area where the board voted in April to quit using Dominion voting systems.
The 2020 election continues to dominate public discourse around voting and elections in the U.S., as Trump supporters and allies repeat claims without evidence that the presidency was stolen from Trump.
At one point during the Washoe County debate, a woman in the audience chanted “Biden cheated, Biden cheated!” as a speaker mentioned former President Donald Trump’s claims about a stolen election. One man wore a “Biden is NOT my president” cap while he urged commissioners not to certify.
Nearly two hours after the meeting began, commissioners voted 4-1 to certify results.
Even before the November 2020 election, Trump was telling his supporters that fraud was the only way he could lose, pointing mostly — and without evidence — to the expansion of mail-in voting during the pandemic.
In the months since, the claims have been dismissed by dozens of judges, by Trump’s attorney general at the time, and by a coalition of federal and state election and cybersecurity officials who called the 2020 vote the “most secure” in U.S. history.
But the false claims prompted commissioners last week in rural Otero County, New Mexico, to initially refuse to certify results from their June 7 primary. After a showdown with the secretary of state and an order by the New Mexico Supreme Court to certify, the commissioners voted 2-1 to sign off on the election and avert a broader crisis.
The delay in Nevada’s Esmeralda County — where Trump won 82% of the vote in 2020 — occurred amid distrust by voters fueled by unfounded voting machine conspiracies that have spread in the U.S. over the past two years. It drew intense attention to tiny Goldfield, a former mining boom town about halfway between Las Vegas and Reno.
Esmeralda County Clerk-Treasurer LaCinda Elgan, in a telephone interview, called the primary “absolutely safe and fair.” One vote cast on one ballot was unintelligible, she told The Associated Press, but all ballots were tallied and reported. None was rejected.
Commissioners Timothy Hipp and Ralph Keyes sat at separate wooden tables Friday and began to hand count the ballots.
Esmeralda County’s commissioners voted in April to join commissioners in neighboring Nye County calling for elections to be conducted entirely by hand, including the counting of ballots.
Election experts say hand-counting of ballots is not only less accurate but extremely labor-intensive, potentially delaying results by weeks if not months in larger counties. They also say it’s unnecessary because voting equipment is tested before and after elections to ensure ballots are read and tallied correctly.
Elgan and Merlino both said they did not believe it was feasible to stop using electronic voting equipment this year. Both are elected officials with power to act independent of their county commissions.
Associated Press writers John Locher in Goldfield, Nevada, Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Christina Almeida Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report. Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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