Voting proposal, borne from unsubstantiated fraud claims, might not be the last, groups say

Voting proposal, borne from unsubstantiated fraud claims, might not be the last, groups say
County workers count ballots on election night, November 3, 2020. Image: Bob Conrad.

Editor’s Note: Washoe County Board of County Commissioners have removed the proposed election reform resolution from the Feb. 22 agenda due to concerns over violations of the state’s open meeting law. It may be added to a future agenda.

by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current

RENO–Civil rights and voting advocacy groups say a proposed resolution before the Washoe County Commission, which calls for using the National Guard at polling sites, is unconstitutional and is designed to disenfranchise voters.

They also warn more local efforts designed to restrict voting might surface ahead of the 2022 midterm election. 

The Washoe County election proposal comes as a wave of Republican-led voting restrictions are being adopted nationwide that range from limiting same-day voter registration and eliminating polling locations in minority communities to criminalizing passing out water to voters while they wait in line. 

Kerry Durmick, the Nevada State Director for All Voting is Local, said she isn’t concerned about similar actions passing statewide considering the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature and governorship. 

“I think the worry is coming from county commissions and local resolutions like this,” she said. 

She pointed to Lander County, which in 2021 proposed switching to paper ballots, a move pushed by Republicans in several states. The county never moved forward with the proposal.

“My only concern is, was Lander the first and is this a domino effect,” Durmick said. “If Washoe County is doing it, which is a swing county, the second biggest county in the state and one of our most diverse counties, what will we possibly see in other counties across the state? That’s my concern right now.”

The proposed resolution, introduced by Republican Washoe County Commissioner Jeanne Herman, requires only Washoe County residents to be poll workers, wants to use “stealth paper ballots,” calls on the National Guard to be present at polling locations, requires “fair opportunities for observation” and asks for ballots to be hand counted.

The measure is scheduled to be discussed at the Feb. 22 commission meeting.

Even if it doesn’t move forward, Emily Persaud-Zamora, executive director of Silver State Voices, said it could have a chilling effect on turnout.

“This creates a sense of fear for communities who are already vulnerable like low-income folks, first time voters, immigrants who might be voting in the U.S. for the first time and BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) voters,” she said. “It also creates a sense of power to people who have been saying our election systems are not secure when we all know it is.”

After doing a review of alleged election integrity issues, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, announced in April she found no supporting evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Despite the review or any evidence produced to prove widespread voter fraud, there has been a push for local and state action to implement voting restrictions. 

Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is running for Senate in 2022, has also promoted dubious voter claims and pushed conspiracy theories known as the Big Lie: the baseless allegation that widespread voter fraud occurred and affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. 

During public comment at the Feb. 8 commission, members of the Washoe County Republican Party were among the numerous people calling on commissioners to implement a resolution citing, without evidence, concerns of “election integrity” and widespread fraud.  

Persaud-Zamora said she wasn’t sure how successful the proposal would be in Washoe County. 

“Everything being proposed here is either a Voting Rights Act violation or is in violation of some type of (Nevada statute),” she said. “One thing that is really clear to me is that the author of this resolution is really not clear or familiar with election systems.”

One of the provisions would cancel voter registrations after five years, a move that could lead to an unnecessary purge of eligible voters. 

“We’ve seen voter purges in states like Ohio and they’ve actually inaccurately purged voters in some cases up to tens of thousands,” Durmick said. 

Durmick also questioned what the provision to “provide equitable and fair opportunities for observation” is designed to do.

“Do they want to watch people vote and who they vote for while they are doing it? Because that would definitely be illegal and crossing a line,” she said. 

Hand counting ballots, Durmick added, would prolong election results and the county would “need triple, quadruple amounts of people in order to count all the ballots.”

Groups opposing the proposal find the inclusion of the National Guard presence particularly problematic. 

“What’s really scary is that Washoe County is the second place with the most BIPOC voters,” Persaud-Zamora said. “We don’t want this to create a feeling that they shouldn’t come out to vote in these elections because they might have the Nevada National Guard watching them while they are voting.”

She added only the governor, not the county, has the ability to call on the National Guard.

“Also, in Nevada right now we are still in a pandemic and we have a housing crisis,” Durmick said. “Do we really want to be spending funds on the National Guard guarding polling places for absolutely no reason? In Washoe County we had one of the safest elections of all time in 2020. There were very, very limited issues at polling places across the county. This just seems to be such a waste of money, resources and time for the National Guard.”

It’s unclear if Washoe County will move forward with the proposal.

Regardless of the outcome, groups plan to watch for other similar proposals throughout the state. 

“We will be monitoring these counties and showing up to these meetings to make our voices heard for the voters of these counties,” she said. 

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