Big Lie pushes rural Nevada to make elections slow, expensive and error-prone
This opinion column was submitted by RGJ columnist Sheila Leslie, who served in the Nevada Legislature from 1998 to 2012.
As a 45-year-old Nevadan by choice, I have spent many happy days in our rural areas, working in social services and recreating in the beautiful remote basin and rangelands around Table Mountain, Mt. Jefferson and the Twin Rivers area of the Arc Dome Desert. I worked with ranchers on the eastern border of Nevada to fight various iterations of the Las Vegas water grab that threatened their lands and livelihoods. I’ve helped small communities set up family resource centers to support their residents, funded with lots of local ingenuity and pride, and I’ve helped rural judges access resources for defendants living with serious mental illness while reducing their prison population.
Over these decades, I have always found local officials and community leaders to be generous with their time and creative with their solutions. Even as an urban-based Nevadan from a much more liberal political point of view, I found a lot of common ground and genuine respect for different viewpoints.
That’s why it was so incredibly disheartening to see the vast majority of people in rural Nevada refuse to believe their own eyes when they saw violent insurgents storming the United States Capitol. It’s been hard to watch them continually vote for climate change deniers, even as they suffer from mega-droughts and wildfires. And it has been painful to watch our rural neighbors succumb to the lies and nonsense of Trumpism, buying into wild conspiracy theories that make no sense.
Recently, the actions of rural Nevada officials regarding the big lie of voter fraud have been deeply disappointing, as five rural county commissions seriously considered abandoning their electronic voting machines in favor of manual counting of ballots, despite the absence of any evidence of a problem. But it has been heartening to see local election officials, all women, speaking their truth to power, defending their voting processes as fair, accurate and fraud-free.
The Nye County Commission has been relentless in its determination to ignore the facts, pressuring its elected clerk, Sandra Merlino, to switch to manual ballot counting ahead of the June primary election. Merlino didn’t deny the commissioners’ request for a manual count, but she pointed to many problems with the idea, including the need to order thousands of extra ballots, the increased cost of poll workers to count the ballots, the inevitable increase in errors that would result from human counting, and state law that requires at least one electronic voting machine at every polling place to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act .
When commissioners overruled her objections and voted unanimously to eliminate electronic voting machines, Merlino said she would retire the first week of August, indicating that she “almost resigned on the spot twice in course of the last month”. And who can blame him?
Jim Marchant, Nevada’s top election conspirator and Republican candidate for secretary of state, is pushing rural commissioners to void their elections even though there’s no evidence of a problem. He told Nye County Commissioners: “With paper ballots, hand counted at the precinct, decentralized – we are going against what the forces want. They want centralized (systems) to be able to manipulate them. So if we go against that and go back to decentralization…that’s how we’re going to ensure that we have a fair and transparent election.
It is unclear who or what “the forces” are or how a manual ballot count would stop so-called manipulation that does not exist or how voting machines can be changed via the internet when election officials insist on the fact that they are never connected to it. . It’s the kind of trash I’d expect rural Nevadans to reject outright, and perhaps suggest that Marchant take his fantasies and lies and be out of town by midnight.
But the commissioners don’t seem interested in the higher incidence of error and opportunity for fraud inherent in counting hands or the extra time it would take or the higher cost. Last week, Esmeralda County commissioners also voted to switch to manual ballot counting over objections from their clerk, LaCinda Elgan.
Marchant and other “cyber experts” told commissioners that their voting machines could be hacked, but produced no evidence to back up their claims. Marchant acknowledged Elgan was doing a good job, admitting his goal was to move all rural counties to a manual count, “and then force Clark and Washoe to do the same at some point.”
In Lincoln County, commissioners postponed consideration of similar changes on a technicality, but Clerk Lisa Lloyd still spoke out against it. In Elko County, commissioners talked about moving to a manual count last week over objections from their clerk, Kris Jakeman. And finally, in Lyon County, commissioners decided to delay moving to a manual count on the advice of Clerk Nikki Bryan and instead register their objections to recent changes in state law to expand mail-in voting and same-day voter registration.
The only funny moment in this sad saga came when former GOP Governor Bob List, now a paid consultant for Dominion voting machines, told Elko County commissioners he would “personally vouch” for their accuracy. . He then quickly returned to blaming Trump’s loss on Democrats who went door to door to ‘collect’ ballots, another ridiculous conspiracy theory being pushed by those deliberately trying to create distrust in our voting systems. Apparently the only way to get a Republican leader to recognize the big lie these days is to pay him to tell the truth.
RGJ columnist Sheila Leslie served in the Nevada Legislature from 1998 to 2012.
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