51.5 F

Commissioner Clark takes issue with contract to review election processes


Commissioner Mike Clark on Tuesday took issue with a contract between Washoe County and The Elections Group saying that he was unhappy with the process to select the firm and didn’t feel the scope of work met the demands of his constituents.

“I see maybe a hundred words on this piece of paper and not one of them had to do with my main focus… We need the foundational integrity of the voter rolls brought up to the level of the other rolls the county maintains,” Clark said. “Until we can get the foundation fixed I’m not interested in hiring outside consultants who don’t hear the constituents’ concerns.”

In a second round of comment Clark again said voter roll cleanup and management wasn’t included in the TEG scope of work.

Washoe County Commissioner Mike Clark. Image: Washoe County.
Washoe County Commissioner Mike Clark. Image: Washoe County.

The paper that Clark read from during his first comment, and waved during his second comment, was the scope of work for TEG’s on-site assessment of the county’s election processes, which included what he said was missing. 

The fifth item on the list is “Managing Automatic Voter Registration and voter list maintenance.” County Manager Eric Brown said item 11 on the bottom of the scope of work, “technology infrastructure,” also included voter rolls and recommendations for implementing a new voter registration system.

Clark also said he wasn’t asked for feedback on selection of TEG for the election review contract. 

“I was interviewed by them, but I wasn’t asked for any feedback on how we selected this committee,” Clark said. 

He was referencing the committee that chose TEG, which included Brown and two of his staff members. Clark insinuated that Brown’s participation in the vendor selection process placed pressure on the other selection committee members.

Commissioner Mariluz Garcia said she was informed of the selection process and asked questions about the process during her agenda review. 

“Having asked those questions I feel more comfortable with this item,” she said. 

Brown said hiring an outside firm to review the county’s election processes and the scope of that firm’s work had been discussed numerous times with commissioners over the past three months. 

“I do want to point out to the board, this has not been a secret. We have been talking about this for three months,” he said. “On Dec. 28 I sent a message to all of you indicating that we were going to move forward with the scope of work and selecting the firm that we were going to use… For those who were not sworn in office I sent them to your private emails so that you could get it even before taking office.”

At January’s commission strategic planning session, Registrar of Voters Jamie Rodriguez provided an in-depth presentation on the plans, including a list of items the selected firm would review. Among those were maintenance of voter rolls. 

Brown said there aren’t a lot of credible firms doing the type of work on elections that the county is looking for. The county solicited recommendations for different vendors from a 3,600-member association of counties and from the Nevada Secretary of State’s office. 

Washoe County Commissioner Alexis Hill. Image: Washoe County.
Washoe County Commissioner Alexis Hill. Image: Washoe County.

Commissioner Alexis Hill said she was pleased with the expertise that TEG would bring to the county. 

“I met with The Elections Group, and I really was blown away with their expertise,” Hill said. “They are bringing a wealth of knowledge from all over the country which a lot of public commenters had said they wanted to see.” 

Brown added that for professional services agreements, such as the one for TEG, the standard procedure for selection was followed. 

“We don’t generally go to RFP, particularly if it’s a specialty type of assignment,” Brown said. “I thought time was of the essence. We do not have that long to get our act together if we’re going to improve the election process in Washoe County in the manner that the community has demanded that we do. We have to invoke the right resources to get that started.”

Brown said the original plan was for commissioners to review the TEG contract the week of March 14 and have the work begin immediately. That meeting was canceled. The board didn’t meet for several weeks, however, and the work was already scheduled to begin. 

“I didn’t want to lose our place on the calendar,” Brown added.

Assistant District Attorney Nate Edwards said Brown had the authority to engage TEG to begin work before the contract was approved under the purchasing authority in Washoe County code.

Brown said hiring TEG does not relate to election policy, but rather the processes involved with managing the election, such as best practices for mailing ballots or maintaining voter rolls. 

“Those are not political issues or policy issues,” Brown said. “Those are best practices that they refine by working with their clients all over the country in red states and in blue states. That’s the kind of expertise, I would argue, we really need to bring into our county.”

Public commenters – many of whom championed Commissioner Jeanne Herman’s failed and illegal “election integrity” resolution in 2022 – alleged Brown’s decision to begin work with TEG without commission approval was illegal, alleged TEG’s leadership and staff was corrupt and said ideas from local voters should be used to overhaul election processes rather than a “fraudulent” out of state contractor.

One commenter suggested bringing in My Pillow founder and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell – who is facing a $1.3 million defamation lawsuit for making false claims about the 2020 election – to review the county’s election processes. In addition to claiming expertise in elections, Lindell was also heavily involved in Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. 

Some public commenters, along with Herman herself, suggested bringing the “election integrity” resolution back before the commission. 

Not all commenters were against approving the contract. 

“The people that complained and demanded this kind of oversight are the ones that lost the election,” Marshall Todd said. “I have been voting for 58 years and I have heard of almost no voter fraud – in the entire country. But I have heard of voter suppression everywhere.

“The idea that bringing in an outside consultant to do this work ensures that it’s fair. They’re not leaning to one side or the other,” he added. “I urge you, pass this thing. Bring the folks in, get the study done. We need to get the idea that elections are stolen out of the public discussion.”

Herman and Clark voted against approving the contract, splitting the vote 2-2 and causing it to fail. 

Many of the same public commenters who complained about poor processes and procedures for Washoe County’s elections also spoke against a subsequent agenda item proposing the hire of new staff in the Registrar of Voters office to manage those elections. 

However, some said staffing the office with experts was key to ending the county’s “carnival of chaos” when it comes to elections. 

A motion to approve the new staff positions also failed on a split vote with Herman and Clark voting against.

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.