Probe launched into allegations of early voting irregularities

With a close U.S. Senate race hanging in the balance, Secretary of State Ross Miller has launched an investigation into Republican allegations of early voting irregularities in Clark and Washoe counties.

Miller, a Democrat, said Tuesday that he’s not as troubled by the allegations as the Republicans. "We see these discrepancies every election cycle," he said. "We last had to explain it to the Obama campaign in 2008."

But Miller said he is taking the allegations seriously and has assigned Carolyn Ellsworth, his securities administrator, who has law enforcement experience and criminal investigators at her disposal, to conduct a "thorough" probe and issue a public report on her findings.

"We’re moving very quickly knowing that the election is approaching very rapidly," Miller said.

He said Ellsworth has spoken with Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax and intends to meet with Washoe County Registrar of Voters Dan Burke on today in Reno.

The secretary of state has scheduled news conferences in Las Vegas and Reno on today to discuss these and other allegations swirling around the Nov. 2 election.

"The public is very familiar with what happens in the last week of an election," Miller said. "You get major political parties that try to create a lack of confidence in the electoral process to reach some kind of political gain."

Miller created an election integrity task force prior to the 2008 election to examine voter irregularities. The task force, which includes the FBI, the attorney general’s office and the U.S. attorney’s office, wound up charging ACORN, a national grass-roots community organizing group, in a voter registration scheme.

The latest alleged irregularities were raised by David O’Mara, legal counsel for the Nevada Republican Party, in a letter to Miller’s office on Monday.

O’Mara said daily polling logs provided to the party by election officials in Clark and Washoe counties showed that at seven early voting sites, five in Southern Nevada and two in Northern Nevada, the number of ballots cast was larger than the number of voters who signed the election registers. There was a difference of two ballots at one site and one ballot at the other six sites.

"These troubling discrepancies suggest that these voting machines may have recorded extra votes erroneously, or that people were allowed to cast votes without signing up (thereby potentially allowing them to cast multiple ballots)," O’Mara wrote.

"We believe that all Nevadans — especially those like you in the secretary of state’s office — want to be assured that every legal voter in this state is allowed to vote, and that their validly cast ballots are not diluted or effectively nullified by erroneously, fraudulently or otherwise impermissibly recorded votes."

O’Mara said the party also found "discrepancies" in the ballot verification and auditing processes in Clark County and asked Miller’s office to take steps to ensure that there is transparency in the efforts here to correct any irregularities.

Lomax said he’s confident that the issues pointed out by the Republicans do not amount to fraud, but rather are the result of human errors that happen every election.

"There’s no such thing as a perfect election," Lomax said.

Sometimes, he said, an election team leader after a long day’s work will simply make a mistake when adding up the ballots at a polling place. The mistake will usually be caught the next day during a routine audit of the ballots by top election staff. Sometimes, an election worker will miss signing in a voter.

Whatever mistake is made, the integrity of the ballots cast will always remain because of the backups in place in the electronic voting process, Lomax said.

"The equipment doesn’t make mistakes," he explained. "Humans do."

Lomax said that what the Republicans basically want is to gain access to the Election Department’s internal auditing procedures during the election, which he won’t allow.

"This is not a team event," he said. "This is my responsibility. That’s why I’m here. If you let the parties become involved, we’ll never be able to get anything done. We’ll just spend all of our time arguing."

Lomax said there are procedures in place to contest an election after he presents the results to the County Commission, and that’s when the parties can participate.

Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal. com or 702-380-8135 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.

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