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Judge blocks lawsuit challenging how Clark County counts mail-in ballots

Updated November 2, 2020 - 5:43 pm

CARSON CITY — A Carson City judge on Monday blocked a lawsuit brought by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign that attempted to change how Clark County is processing mail-in ballots in the final days of the election.

The Nevada Republican Party and Trump’s re-election campaign filed the lawsuit on Friday asking the the court to force Clark County to alter how it has been counting and verifying mail ballots, to allow “meaningful” observation of all stages of the process, including allowing a camera inside the room where ballots are stored at the county facility, and for a way to challenge mail ballots. They claimed that the county’s process was creating risk of voter fraud and was “diluting” the votes.

Carson City Judge James Wilson disagreed.

“There is no evidence of any debasement or dilution of any citizen’s vote,” wrote Wilson, who added that the Republicans’ attorneys failed to present evidence to back up any of their claims alleged in the lawsuit or in the hearing held last week.

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald said in a statement Monday that they might file an expedited appeal to the state Supreme Court. Election Day is Tuesday.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, whose office defended the state in the case, called the decision “a victory for the constitutional rights of all Nevadans.”

“The president’s deliberate attempts to undermine Nevada’s elections have failed again,” Ford said in a statement. “Today’s ruling makes clear that there is a proper procedure to observe an election that even the president must follow.”

The lawsuit had asked for a temporary restraining order to immediately halt the county’s efforts. Wilson denied that request hours after the lawsuit was filed but allowed the case to move forward to a hearing.

Flaws in the process?

Attorneys for the Trump campaign and state Republican Party argued the county’s signature-verification process for mail-in ballots was lacking and that observers were not given ample opportunities to view or challenge the work of election workers. The lawsuit also asked the court to stop Clark County from using an Agilis ballot sorting machine that verifies the signatures.

Those charges mirror complaints raised by Republicans in recent weeks that watchers are being kept too far away from the process for “meaningful observation” and that county officials would not allow the Republican party to install cameras inside the observation areas.

The county’s process, they argued, left the door open to risk of voter fraud, a common refrain from Trump and Republicans on mail ballots that judges have dismissed in other lawsuits filed by conservative groups in Nevada this year.

Wilson wrote in his order that Trump’s campaign attorneys did not show any evidence that the things they were concerned about were actually happening and therefore had no standing on their claims.

No evidence to support claims

“There is no evidence that any vote that should lawfully be counted has or will not be counted. There is no evidence that any vote that should lawfully not be counted has been or will be counted,” Wilson said. “There is no evidence that any election worker did anything outside of the law, policy, or procedures.”

Wilson addressed the claims by Republicans that Clark County’s process created a different class of voter than in other parts of the state.

“All Nevada voters have the right to choose to vote in-person or by mail-in. Voting in person and voting by mailing in the ballot are different and so the procedures are different,” he wrote. “There is no evidence that anything the State or Clark County have done creates two different classes of voters.”

And on the county’s use of the Agilis machine, Wilson said that Republicans’ attorneys “failed to show any error or flaw in the Agilis results or any other reason for such a mandate.”

Problems with access

On the Republicans’ ask for more access, including installing a camera, Wilson said that allowing such access “would create a host of problems” because ballots and verification tools contain confidential voter information that observers do not have a right to know and would lead to more people being in the processing areas “at a time when social distancing is so important because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wilson noted out that election officials had “relatively little time to assess, plan, modify, and implement procedures” for this year’s election amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He also pointed out that the lawsuit was filed on Oct. 23, just 11 days before Election Day.

During opening statements in the hearing last week, Nevada Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Zunino said the lawsuit had clear partisan motives of trying to disqualify ballots cast in Democratic-leaning Clark County.

“Clark County is a blue county, and this is a numbers game. And quite frankly they would like to exclude as many ballots in Clark County as they can. They want a high rejection rate,” Zunino said. “They are not challenging the process in Elko County or Humboldt County or Carson City because those are red counties.”

Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said they agreed with the judge’s assessment.

“This is the busiest time of the year for the Election Department and we are glad to have another baseless lawsuit dismissed so quickly,” Kulin said.

In September, U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Trump campaign, writing that “not only have plaintiffs failed to allege a substantial risk of voter fraud, the State of Nevada has its own mechanisms for deterring and prosecuting voter fraud.”

Elections experts have said mail-in ballots are safe, and Nevada’s Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske testified this year that her office did not find any fraud during the state’s primary election, which was conducted almost entirely by mail.

This is likely not to be the last lawsuit filed in Nevada by the Trump campaign this election cycle.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sunday, Trump said that they plan to file numerous lawsuits in key battleground states like Pennsylvania and Nevada on election night, according to a tweet from “PBS NewsHour” White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.

“We’re gonna go in, the night of, as soon as that election’s over, we’re going in with our lawyers,” Trump said.

Ford tweeted out in response to Trump’s comments, “And we’re ready.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

Order: Kraus, Trump, Nevada GOP v. Cegavske, Gloria by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

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