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Fact-check: Commissioner Herman’s proposed election changes are impractical, vague and illegal


By Bob Conrad and Kristen Hackbarth

A “voter integrity petition” submitted Feb. 8 to Washoe County’s Board of County Commissioners by far-right, self-described patriots demands sweeping changes to local, state and federal election laws and practices. 

This was followed up with Washoe County Commissioner Jeanne Herman adding to Tuesday’s county commission meeting a number of proposed changes to election practices in Washoe County. 

Washoe County today pulled the item from the agenda for what the District Attorney said was a potential violation of open meeting law. 

“Specifically, [the item] was submitted the day before the agenda deadline by a commissioner and did not go through the customary agenda review process,” District Attorney Chris Hicks said. “As a result, the agenda item description does not match the resolution that has been submitted for possible approval and does not adequately describe the possible action to be taken.”

The item may reappear on a future commission agenda. 

This Is Reno contacted the Washoe County Registrar of Voters and the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office to determine the feasibility of the petition and what Herman is proposing.

The petition, and Herman’s requests, rely largely on unsupported assumptions, and its issuance to Washoe County suggests its efforts are misplaced. Some items are blatantly illegal.

“Portions of the document appear to be in violation of state and federal laws, or would require state or federal action,” Washoe County officials said. In regards to the petition officials said, “For example, declaring Election Day as a holiday: The county does not have the authority to declare holidays. 

“Other items listed do not provide enough information for the county to be able to consider them, while others would require a deeper analysis of impact,” they added. “The decentralization of precinct voting would require research to determine the number of staff needed at the vote centers and that a location existed within each precinct to hold the election. Washoe County has about 490 precincts after redistricting.”

We took a look at each item on Herman’s proposed election resolution to attempt to determine whether it is possible — or even legal.

1. Immediately correct the current voter registration list in-verification with the USCIS SAVE program, National Change of Address (NCOA), and Washoe County Assessor and Vital Records

Reply: Updates are already mandated, and the SAVE program is not a valid source for voter eligibility.

Explanation: The petition provided to commissioners claims that there was a “42% error rate in voter rolls” but provides no evidence to back the claim. According to the Nevada Secretary of State, Nevada’s voter list is maintained and updated on a daily basis following state and federal laws, including the national Voting Rights Act. 

Daily updates by the Washoe County registrar of voters include records from DMV voter registration, state and county reports, Vital Statistics reports, obituaries and deceased voter notifications and registrations from other states. 

Additional updates performed less frequently including those from National Change of Address reports, inactive voter mailings, Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) reports and undeliverable or returned sample or mail-in ballots. Details are online here

The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service SAVE program (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements) has for a number of years been suggested as a source of immigration data for voter roll updates. The program isn’t a database of citizens or non-citizens, however, and is not a valid source of information for voter eligibility, according to the non-profit and non-partisan American Immigration Council. 

“The evidence of non-citizens voting is sparse and appears subject to much exaggeration. Despite this, many states are asking the federal government for access to immigration data in order to determine whether non-citizens are on the voter registration rolls,” the group said.

2. Ensure the strict use of Washoe County residents as poll workers

Reply: Poll workers already have to be Nevada residents.

Explanation: In the petition provided to the Washoe County Board of County Commissioners at the Feb. 8 Board of County Commissioners meeting, Robert Beadles and other commenters alleged the county had bussed in poll workers from California,”representing a greater potential for bias or prejudice and malfeasance.” 

This is false. 

The registrar requires all poll and election workers to be U.S. citizens and registered voters in Nevada. There are a number of other requirements, including being able to work 14 or more hours on election day, being able to set up the voting equipment and passing a training. The full list is here.

3. Providing equitable and fair opportunities for observation

Reply: Anyone can be a poll observer in accordance with Nevada Revised Statutes 293.274.  

County workers count ballots on election night, November 3, 2020. Image: Bob Conrad.
County workers count ballots on election night, November 3, 2020. Image: Bob Conrad.

4. Limiting private contributions per contributor to the registrar’s office to $2,500 per year

Reply: This item appears to relate to a “problem” identified in the petition supplied to commissioners that alleged the registrar of voters office was subject to “outside influence by Mark Zuckerberg’s CTCL foundation which granted Washoe County $277,479 for the last election.”  

The grant was provided by the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which helps election administrators keep pace with technology advancements through trainings and grants. The grant was provided as part of a program to support safe administration of elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, one that many election officials said was vital after the federal government failed to provide additional funds for pandemic-related expenses. 

Explanation: “Election integrity” proponents argue that this money was provided by Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta (Facebook), as a way of influencing the election. No evidence was provided to support this assertion (see also number 5, below). 

Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan did contribute millions to CTCL for its work during the pandemic, but they did not administer the grants. It is not uncommon for the county to secure federal, state and private grants to pay for county services and activities. About 6% of the budget for this fiscal year is projected to come from intergovernmental sources and “miscellaneous,” where the CTCL grant was noted. 

The Board of County Commissioners regularly approves donations to a variety of county activities to sustain operations. For example, just this month commissioners approved a donation of more than $700,000 for improvements to the Our Place women’s homeless shelter. It is undetermined how limiting contributions would be feasible or would impact elections.

5. Enacting any other measure that ensures the accuracy, security, and purity of elections

Reply: This assertion appears to rest upon the claim American elections are somehow “unpure” and insecure. Despite claims, there was little to no evidence in Nevada widespread voter fraud from the 2020 election.

Explanation: The Nevada Secretary of State, Barbara Cegavske, issued the following statement in 2020: 

“While election officials rely on the public to report potential illegal conduct related to an election, election officials are also currently going through statutorily required post-election processes, including vote count reconciliation and audits of the voting system components.  Through these post-election processes, instances of actual or attempted fraud may come to light. If so, these instances will be thoroughly investigated.”

Cegavske followed that statement with a similar one in April of 2021. Although the Republicans said there were more than 122,000 records to support their fraud allegations, her office found fewer than 4,000 records that were identified as “Elections Integrity Violation Reports (EIVRs).” 

“Our investigation into these documents revealed that some incidents were already under investigation. These involved discrete, readily verifiable events,” she said

Some cases of alleged double voting were referred to law enforcement or local registrars of voters for address verification. Donald “Kirk” Hartle, a Republican from Las Vegas, was charged with voter fraud and pleaded guilty after he voted twice in the 2020 general election. 

Many allegations of impropriety, such as out of state voters voting in Nevada, can be explained, Cegavske said, by simple situations involving address changes, deaths or permanent versus temporary residencies — college students attending schools out of state, for example.

The phrase “purity of elections” has been used more frequently since the 2020 election as Republican officials work to remedy what they claim was fraud during that election. 

The language is synonymous with voter suppression and dates back to the post-Civil War era and efforts to disenfranchise Black voters. Last year, even Republicans in the Texas legislature struck the phrase “purity of the ballot box” from their voting bill once informed of its racist roots. 

6. Quarterly reporting by the registrar of voters of all measures, and improvements thereto, used to ensure accuracy, reporting and purity of elections

Reply: This provision isn’t clear as to where this quarterly reporting should be presented – to the county manager, the Board of County Commissioners or via published public reports. 

The Registrar of Voters has a section of the Washoe County website with information including voter registration reports and statistics, a regularly updated count of registered voters by party, election process information, past elections information and a list of new voting and elections provisions for 2022.

7. Utilizing stealth paper ballots as primary method of voting, with provision of one electronic voting kiosk for ADA qualified voters

Reply: This item is unclear, particularly the term “stealth paper ballots,” the definition of which officials from the Secretary of State’s office said they were unaware. 

Explanation: Stealth paper ballots are not an official means of voting, but may refer to a paper technology developed by a Texas-based company. According to a report in the Washington Post, the company, Authentix, manufactures paper with holographic foil and temperature-sensitive inks, among other security features. 

It is unknown what the cost of printing ballots on this paper would be, but it would certainly cost more to taxpayers than the mailed ballots the county currently uses. 

8. Ensure mail ballots are sent certified receipt so only intended voter takes possession of it

Reply: The passage of Assembly Bill 321 in the 2021 legislative session required mail ballots to be sent to all registered voters unless they opt out, so it is likely this would have to be a state – not county – mandate. It would also be costly to taxpayers. 

Explanation: The U.S. Postal Service offers certified mail which proves the sender sent it, or a return receipt, which requires a signature to prove the recipient accepted it. It’s not clear here whether the Registrar of Voters which method would be required to send the ballots, so we calculated the cost for both. 

The U.S. Postal Service advertises its certified mail at $3.75 per piece and return receipt by email at $1.85 per piece. With 307,812 registered voters in Washoe County as of Feb. 17 of this year, that could add up to more than $1.1 million for certified mail, nearly $570,000 for return receipt, and more than $1.7 million for both. 

That’s assuming the county would pay the same rate as a single piece of mail, which is unlikely. Nevertheless, the annual budget for the registrar of voters office is about $2.5 million. There’s also no fiscal note attached to this resolution, but this measure would most certainly have an increased cost to county taxpayers. 

A Washoe County ballot drop box for the June 2020 primary election. Image: Trevor Bexon / This Is Reno

9. Ensure ballot envelopes are scanned as “received” at intake stations connected in real time to voter database before being deposited into ballot boxes

Reply: It is unclear how such boxes could be connected to voter databases or how this would improve so-called “election integrity” beyond the current methods ballots are processed. 

Explanation: The county specifically keeps its voting machines disconnected from other systems.

“All voting systems are physically disconnected (air gapped) from any external connections and all of the components are stand-alone (no internet or WiFi connections). Voting equipment and voter registration databases are two separate systems and do not communicate or connect in any way,” the registrar’s website notes.

“In the election process, the voting system (equipment) comprises of the hardware and software used to collect and tally votes, including the voting machines used for in-person voting, the scanners used to tabulate mail-in ballots, and the election management system that creates the ballots, tallies and reports the results.

“Access to election equipment and systems is multifaceted and highly controlled by County staff. Equipment storage areas and central tally systems are protected and can only be accessed by County elections staff who must remain present at all times when observers, the public, or vendors are present,” the registrar continues.

Ballot barcodes are scanned upon receipt, as well as being date-stamped in order to preserve the chain of custody. When scanned, they are verified for signature verification and voter eligibility. A bipartisan adjudication board reviews paper ballots if there is a question as to voter intent that is not clearly marked. See also number 14, below.

10. Ensure bipartisan teams, who are not married, are utilized throughout election processes, including but not limited to verification of registration applications, intake stations/ballot boxes, ballot pickup teams, sorting sealed envelopes into precincts, delivering sealed envelopes to precinct tables, opening envelopes, verifying signatures, counting ballots, tallying results, etc.

Reply: See number 9 above and 11, below.

11. Ensure bipartisan teams are approved by respective central committees of primary parties

Reply: Poll worker qualifications are already posted online and are devoid of political affiliation. 

Explanation: Poll workers are hired as temporary employees of the Washoe County Registrar of Voters and they must meet certain requirements and undergo training. They are instructed that they must remain nonpartisan while working at polling places. 

This item, however, would not only insert political parties into the hiring decisions for the county, it could limit the opportunities for citizens not registered to a major party from participating as poll workers. More than one third of registered voters in Washoe County are identified as nonpartisan or “other” and therefore may not have a “central committee.”

12. Ensure bipartisan teams are scheduled in two shifts (one morning/day, one afternoon/swing) for all positions

Reply: See above. In addition, current election workers are required to commit to a five- to six-hour time commitment. It is unclear how “two shifts” would be an improvement on current practices. 

Poll watchers and voters at the Washoe County administrative complex during the June 2020 primary. Image: Trevor Bexon / This Is Reno

13. Ensure there is a Nevada National Guard presence at each polling/ballot box location, as well as the central counting center

Reply: This would be a state, not county, responsibility.

Explanation: Nevada’s Governor has the ability to activate the Nevada National Guard, not county-level representatives, so this provision is not one that the Washoe County Commission can legally approve.

Washoe County Commissioner Alexis Hill last week said installing National Guard members at polling locations would “intimidate voters” and “militarize voting locations.” 

It is illegal to deploy federal troops to polling locations, but states can send National Guard troops to quell unrest at precincts. In 2020, some states sent plainclothes National Guard members to polling locations to assist as election workers – not as an authoritative or law enforcement presence, though. 

Nevada law states that “all officers of the Nevada National Guard have the same powers and shall perform the same duties as officers of similar rank and position in the United States Army or United States Air Force, respectively, insofar as may be authorized by federal law.” 

In that sense, deployment of National Guard members to oversee elections may be viewed as illegal, and at minimum may be intimidating to voters.

14. Ensure the counting procedure is public and continues without adjournment until completed (NRS 293.363)

Reply: This is already in state law and, again, is not a county function. 

Explanation: In the 2020 election it took several days to count all of the state’s ballots, and the Secretary of State’s office said it could take up to 10 days to complete the counting, at which point counting would be “adjourned.” 

In Washoe County, the procedure was live streamed, including for early voting and mail-in ballots processed ahead of the general election, via the county’s YouTube channel. In that sense, it is already public.

Counting of ballots is ongoing until the count is complete, but not continuous. It is not feasible to provide continuous ballot counting and hand counting based on the many steps of the process. 

As the Associated Press reported, mail-in ballots “are first processed through a machine that verifies signatures. Election staff manually examines signatures not verified by the machine. Later, a review is done to make sure the total number of ballots processed matches the number of ballots received. Once verified, those ballots are counted.” 

Ballots that require ID verification or have signature match problems require longer to process as the registrar’s office must reach out to those voters to verify their eligibility to vote, the AP reported. All of this can take days, if not weeks, to ensure that every legally cast ballot is counted. 

A county worker processes ballots in the June 2020 primary election. Image: Trevor Bexon / This Is Reno

15. Ensure ballots are counted by hand in order to be counted by hand in a recount (NRS 293.404)

Reply: The Nevada law referred to here requires that in a recount “all ballots must be recounted in the same manner in which the ballots were originally tabulated.” 

It’s true that machine processing of ballots can be subject to error – however, there is no evidence that hand-counting is more accurate than current methods, which streamline ballot processing. This is also a state and federal – not a county – mandate.

16. Ensure same day registrations are issued a paper provisional ballot of a different color than precinct paper ballots

Reply: It is unclear what this is referring to and why. 

Explanation: Voters who use same-day registration can be provided with a provisional ballot to cast their vote. State law requires that these provisional ballots remain separate from other ballots and go through a verification process before they are counted and added to vote tallies. 

17. Ensure all voter registration forms are verified against the USCIS SAVE program, National Change of Address (NCOA), and Washoe County Assessor and Vital records BEFORE they are entered into the voter registration system

Reply: All voter registrations go through a verification process by the Secretary of State’s office including against records from Department of Motor Vehicles, Social Security Administration, Office of Vital Statistics and existing records on the Statewide Voter Registration List. Details on the process are available here. See item 1, above, for details about how USCIS SAVE program data is not appropriate for voter registration.

18. Ensure registrations in voter registration system expire 5 years after registration/renewal

Reply: Automatically removing registered voters from the voter registration every five years violates the Voting Rights Act. The act sets provisions for how voters can be removed from registration lists, and automatic expiration is not one of them. 

Explanation: The American Bar Association notes that purging voter rolls is “glaringly unconstitutional” and that voters “have a right to choose not to vote and not to be penalized for doing so.”

There are provisions within the Voting Rights Act for how voters can be removed from the voter rolls. According to the registrar of voters website, the process to remove voters from the rolls must be uniform and nondiscriminatory and done at least 90 days before a federal election.

19. Ensure renewal notifications are mailed in January to “active” electors whose registrations expire that year

Reply: Because voter registration expiration is illegal, this point is moot. 

20. Ensure forensic material of elections is maintained for a period of 10 years

Reply: There is no clear precedent for retaining elections materials for 10 years, and the length of time is longer than even the federal government suggests taxpayers to retain income tax records. This is also not under the county’s purview.

Explanation: The Nevada Secretary of State sets requirements regarding the timing and completion of recounts and the contest of an election, as well as the length of time and methods by which voting records must be stored. 

A recount must be completed within 13 days of the election. The recount must be requested within three days, started within five days and completed within five days.

To contest an election, paperwork must be filed no later than five days from the completion of the recount (or within 14 days of the election if there’s no recount) and must be heard by a court within five days (10 days if there’s no recount).

“Election contests shall take precedence over all regular business of the court,” per Nevada law. 

Voting records must be kept in vaults for at least 22 months following the election – well after opportunities for recount and contest have expired – and after that time must be destroyed. Inspection of the records is also outlined in the law, and limited to the judge in such cases, the county’s election office and the parties to the contest. 

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