Rural Nevada county delays approving primary vote results

LAS VEGAS — (AP) — Elected officials in one rural Nevada county decided Thursday to postpone until Friday certifying results of the 317 ballots 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 ballots that county Clerk-Treasurer LaCinda Elgan said were cast by machine.

In a telephone interview, Elgan noted that a deputy clerk, Michelle Garcia, administered the primary because Elgan was on the Republican ballot for reelection. She drew 57.5% of the vote.

Elgan called the primary in Esmeralda “absolutely safe and fair.”

One vote cast on one ballot was unintelligible, she said, but all ballots were tallied and reported. None was rejected.

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.

Lawyers at the Nevada state Attorney General’s Office were researching state election law for guidance about the effect of a county refusing to certify the results by Friday’s deadline, spokesman John Sadler said Thursday. He said that 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 AP. 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.”

Facing a Friday deadline, eight rural Nevada counties have approved their so-called canvass of the primary vote, including Lyon County on Thursday afternoon. Esmeralda and eight others — including Clark, covering the Las Vegas area; Washoe covering the Reno area; and Nye, a Republican-leaning county including Pahrump and Tonopah — are scheduled 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 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.

The three commissioners in Esmeralda voted in April to join commissioners in neighboring Nye County calling for elections to be conducted using paper ballots — and without Dominion machines. Elgan and the elected county clerk in Nye County, Sam Merlino, both said they did not believe it was feasible to stop using electronic voting machines this year.

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 and Garcia responded that the worker was trained, but the Dominion representative was there to help. The county clerk said no computer 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, Elgan and Garcia responded that a printer was in the other room. Elgan said a printer will be installed in the counting room for the general election.

“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.

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This story has been updated to correct that no computer malfunctioned. This story also was updated to correct that the last name of the county district attorney. He is Robert Glennen III, not Glennon.

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Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report.

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