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Brennan Center Submits Comment to Nye County, Nevada Board of Commissioners on Proposed Hand Count Procedures

The Brennan Center, along with All Voting is Local, urged the Nevada Board of Commissioners to abandon their request that the County Clerk end the use of machines and hand count all ballots in the general election in November.

Published: September 22, 2022

The Nye County Clerk presented his plans for conducting a hand count of all ballots in the November 2022 general election, in “parallel” with machine processing of those ballots. These plans involve beginning the hand count on October 25, well before election day.

This plan is likely to violate state law, which contains criminal prohibitions on the public release of information about mail and early ballots before polls close on election day.  This prohibition is common in the United States, and indeed, no state permits the public release of results or partial results before election day.

Hand tallying ballots in public, as the law requires, would constitute the publicizing of running tallies, as ballot markings are read aloud and individual talliers keep running totals.  In contrast, pre-processing of ballots using machine scanners can occur without violating these laws because ballots can be run through certified scanners without the scanner displaying a running tally. The tally can be printed or displayed once polls close.

While a hand count can be an important security tool to confirm machine totals are accurate or in a recount, it shouldn’t be used as the primary means of tallying results in elections involving multiple races and large numbers of ballots. A hand count is more likely to introduce human error or missteps into the process, and beginning the hand count early involves the public release of partial results, in violation of law and common practice.

In a prior comment, the Brennan Center, along with All Voting is Local, ACLU of Nevada and Silver State Voices, urged the Nevada Secretary of State to prohibit hand counts as the primary method of counting ballots where this process cannot guarantee the accuracy and timeliness that state law requires. Read the comment here.