Trump campaign asks court to stop Nevada from counting early votes

CBSNews
·4 min read

The Trump campaign and state Republicans are demanding that a state Nevada court temporarily block election officials in a Nevada county from counting early votes, accusing election officials of mishandling mail ballots and of refusing to accommodate their observers.

"It is troubling that those trusted to run our elections are going to have to be compelled by the court to follow state law and protect this election," Michael McDonald, chair of the Nevada Republican Party, said in a statement Friday. "We join President Trump in his fight for transparency and accountability in Nevada's election system."

The lawsuit, first reported by The Nevada Independent, follows a letter sent to Clark County's election officials this week by the state Republican Party's attorneys outlining many of the same complaints, including restrictions to its election observers, and threats of legal action if they were not addressed.

Filed early Friday with the state court in Carson City, the Trump campaign's lawsuit follows a months-long string of complaints from Republicans in Nevada over election procedures.

"Here, simply holding off on the counting of ballots until a determination can be reached on the merits of the pending petitions is no real burden," wrote Trump campaign's attorneys in their request for a temporary restraining order. "Ballots need not be counted until election day and, given the provisions of AB4, are even counted for days after election day."

Republicans had earlier this year mounted an ultimately unsuccessful bid in federal court to block the state's election changes in response to the pandemic, including Nevada's move to mail ballots to all active voters in the state this year, citing concerns over voter fraud.

A decision by a Nevada judge to pause ballot counting in Clark County could significantly delay results in the battleground state, given Nevada's shift to a predominantly mail-in-ballot election and the additional steps that processing mail ballots — like resolving so-called "mismatched" signatures — introduces to the process of tabulating early votes. Nevada also began early in-person voting last week and will have polls open on Election Day.

Both in the letter and in their lawsuit, Republicans claimed that the Clark County registrar had failed to submit a written plan for how the general public could observe the processing of early ballots. They also disputed restrictions on observers in the county's facilities, including blocking their access to "rooms dedicated to resolving ballot issues" or to installing cameras to monitor tabulation remotely, citing COVID-19 concerns.

Voters wearing protective masks stand in line to cast ballots at an early voting polling location for the 2020 Presidential elections in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.  / Credit: Roger Kisby/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Voters wearing protective masks stand in line to cast ballots at an early voting polling location for the 2020 Presidential elections in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. / Credit: Roger Kisby/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In the lawsuit, Republicans also raised objections about how Clark County was handling mail ballots, claiming that county officials "intentionally lowered the tolerance number" on a processing machine leading to fewer rejected signatures.

In a statement Thursday before news of the lawsuit, county spokesperson Dan Kulin had dismissed many of the GOP's complaints as "misleading or inaccurate" and insisted Clark County had gone "above and beyond to provide access to observers."

"We have met with representatives from both parties to discuss the issue and made some of the changes they have requested, and we will continue to work with them," said Kulin.

Kulin also claimed that some of the areas Republicans had requested access to would violate voter's privacy and that the request for installing cameras was "likely not permitted" by law. He insisted concerns about protecting the privacy of ballots, which Republicans had also raised in their letter, were misconstruing the "two-person, bi-partisan counting boards."

Nevada Democrats dismissed the Republican suit as "baseless attacks to undermine confidence in Nevada's election integrity."

"So, it's no surprise that now, as Democrats hold a significant mail ballot lead in Clark County, Republicans are making one more desperate play. The demands articulated in the GOP's lawsuit amount to voter suppression, plain and simple," Nevada State Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II said in a statement.

Encompassing nearly three in four Nevada residents, Clark County is by far the battleground state's largest county by population. Election officials in Nevada were permitted to begin counting ballots on October 19, under a package of election reforms passed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bethany Drysdale, a spokesperson for Washoe County — Nevada's second most populous — said Friday they were not aware of any observers being denied access to their own ballot tabulation location and would be providing their own livestream of their ballot intake area.

"We have not received any requests to do so, but it is a service to our community that we already provide," said Drysdale.

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