Trump campaign sues in Nevada to stop Vegas-area vote count

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Trump campaign and Nevada Republicans asked a state judge on Friday to stop the count of Las Vegas-area mail-in ballots, alleging that “meaningful observation” of signature-checking is impossible in the state’s biggest and most Democratic-leaning county.

A lawsuit filed in state court in Carson City less than two weeks before the Nov. 3 election complains that observers haven’t been allowed close enough to workers and machines at the busy vote processing center to see whether ballots that get second- and third-step validation should be rejected.

It alleges that Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria failed to get proper approval in April from Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske for his plan to accommodate observers, and seeks a court order to “prohibit … processing and counting ballots until the proper procedures are in place.”

It also complains that a GOP offer to install video monitoring equipment at the Clark County election headquarters was rejected.

Donald J. Trump for President campaign co-chairman in Nevada, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, said in an interview that it appeared that not enough ballots were being rejected.

He cited state election data showing that more than 98% of mailed ballots received in Clark County had been accepted as valid.

“It’s hard to believe there’s only a 1% rejection rate,” Laxalt told The Associated Press. “Once a signature is verified, no campaign has the ability to challenge that vote.”

“All we want is to be part of the signature verification process and the ability to challenge a mail-in signature,” he said.

In 2016, Nevada counties reported that 1.6% of absentee ballots returned were rejected, according to data collected by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Nationally, about 1% of absentee ballots cast were rejected that year.

State Democrats called the lawsuit a “plain and simple” effort to suppress votes in the state’s most diverse county. The U.S. Census puts the Clark County population at more than 31% Hispanic, 13% Black and about 10% Asian-American.

In a statement, the party referred to a previous lawsuit, dismissed by a federal judge in September, that aimed to block a state law enacted under coronavirus pandemic emergency measures to allow for mail-in ballots to be sent to every active registered voter in the state. The state Legislature is controlled by Democrats and the law passed on party-line votes. The governor, a Democrat signed it in August.

The federal judge in Las Vegas said Republicans and the Trump campaign failed to show how they would be harmed by the law. The ruling was not appealed.

“Throughout this election, Trump and Republicans have resorted to baseless attacks to undermine confidence in Nevada’s election integrity,” the Democratic party statement said.

Hours after the new lawsuit was filed, Judge James Wilson in Carson City declined to issue an immediate order to stop the count. But he scheduled a hearing next Wednesday on the request for an injunction.

Wilson is a former district attorney in Elko and private practice lawyer who was elected to the state bench in 2008. Judicial races in Nevada are nonpartisan.

Las Vegas-area voter and volunteer count-watcher Fred Kraus is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed in Nevada’s capital city because the secretary of state is a plaintiff. Cegavske is a Republican.

A spokeswoman for Cegavske, Jennifer Russell, said she couldn’t comment on an active lawsuit.

Clark County has more than 70% of the nearly 1.75 million active voters in the state. Registered Democrats number more than 504,000, compared with about 351,000 Republicans and 300,000 with no party affiliation. More than 190,000 mailed ballots have been already been received, according to state election center figures.

Gloria said in an interview before the lawsuit was filed that Las Vegas-area vote processing is safe, fair and nonpartisan, and that even amid COVID-19 pandemic distancing rules, observers were being accommodated for the verification process.

Allowing a party to install and control cameras and keep recordings to itself would be inappropriate, he said, and would violate state law prohibiting public photos or videos at the counting center.

Changing operations now would be challenging, Gloria added.

Ballots are rejected during every election, even under the best of circumstances, and authorities nationally say problems could be compounded this year as millions of voters cast mail-in ballots for the first time because of election changes forced by the coronavirus.

Some ballots typically go uncounted because they arrive too late in the mail, voters forget to sign them or signatures don’t match the one on file at local election offices.

Large numbers of uncounted ballots could be used to sow doubts about the election. Trump has claimed repeatedly without evidence that widespread mail-in voting will lead to fraud.


AP reporters Sam Metz in Carson City and Christina Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.

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