Trump allies and election administrators fight over vote-counting machines

The push has been gaining momentum over the past month. In Arizona, a bill that would require manual ballot counting for all elections has passed a legislative committee. And in Nevada, a dark red county’s board of commissioners — spurred on by a candidate aligned with Trump to be the state’s top election official — has officially urged its election secretary to drop automatic counting.

Now the surge is spreading across Nevada. “It’s kind of like wildfire,” said Nye, Nevada, County Clerk Sandra Merlino. “Now they’re hitting other counties…everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.”

Nye County Council passed a resolution urging Merlino to consider hand counting ballots after the county attorney told council he could not require the clerk to switch to hand counting, it said. she declared.

Merlino said she told the council it would not be possible to consider before the June primary, but would discuss the practicality with the council for November. But she said she had serious concerns.

“Imagine counting 31,000 ballots by hand… I really have no idea how long that would take. I just imagine we would miss our deadline to solicit our votes,” she said. “I’m just very nervous as a voter – or clerk – to go to a manual count.”

The actions in Nye were encouraged by Jim Marchant, a former Republican state legislator who is running for Nevada’s secretary of state. Marchant is part of a nationwide coalition of pro-Trump candidates running for office on a platform that includes false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from the former president.

“We’re going to do our best to get rid of the voting machines in Nye County and then we’ll go to other counties here in Nevada,” he told former senior Trump adviser Steve Bannon. , during Bannon’s streaming show last week.

Marchant told Bannon he wanted to remove voting machines from all counties in Nevada, but said he did not expect Washoe and Clark — the two most populous counties — to do so. Indeed, Washoe County Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to reject a motion calling for the manual counting of ballots, among other procedural changes.

Nevada recently became a universal mail-in voting state — every active registered voter receives a mail-in ballot — and those votes are counted via automatic tabulators. For in-person votes, much of the state uses what’s called a direct-record electronic voting machine: voters type their choices into the machine, and the machine spits out a “paper audit trail that can be verified by voter” – a tape or printout that the voter can check to ensure that their choices have been correctly recorded.

While the vocal pressure among prominent election conspiracy theorists to switch to manual counting has grown stronger, it remains to be seen where and if it will actually be implemented. The sponsor of the Arizona bill – which would also almost entirely eliminate mail-in voting in the state – said he would consider amendments to allow some machine counting after a pushback at a committee hearing , reported the Arizona Republic. And even if he were to advance to the state Senate, he faces incredibly long odds in the State House, where the Republican president has put up roadblocks.

A recent surge in New Hampshire, where some smaller jurisdictions already count ballots by hand, also fell flat. New Hampshire Public Radio reported that at least 10 cities had questions about manual vote counting in the March election, and the measures failed in all of them.

“It would be an abject disaster”

More than 90% of registered voters live in jurisdictions where in-person voters use a ballot in one form or another, but manual ballot counting is extremely rare.

Just over 800 jurisdictions nationwide — covering 0.6% of registered voters — primarily count in-person or mail-in ballots by hand, according to Warren Stewart, data analyst at the Verified Voting Foundation, who advocates election security measures.

Election officials say there is a very good reason for this.

Many of those jurisdictions that count ballots by hand have small numbers of voters — hundreds, not thousands. Switching to manual counting in mid-sized jurisdictions like Nye County in Nevada, let alone a megacounty like Maricopa County, Arizona, where more than 2 million people voted in the 2020 election, would increase the cost elections, would significantly prolong the time taken to obtain results and potentially make final counts less accurate.

“It would be an abject disaster,” said Adrian Fontes, the former Maricopa County recorder who is currently running in the Democratic primary for secretary of state in Arizona. “There is not a serious person in or near election administration who will tell you that counting by hand is better than counting by machine.”

Fontes pointed to the GOP-led review of the 2020 election in Maricopa, where volunteers attempted to count ballots by hand and fell months behind schedule. He said the review wasn’t a perfect analogy: He and many other election administrators sharply criticized its haphazard processes and nods to conspiracy theories – and that the review only looked at two races, as opposed to the tens that are usually on a Maricopa ballot

“With well over 2.6 million voters, if we get an 80% turnout, you can expect a manual count to take about two to three months at best,” he said. for follow-up. “It would probably cost tens of millions of dollars.”

Hiring scrutineers would drive much of that increased cost, election officials say. Typically, election workers work in bipartisan pairs, and election offices would need many more workers to actually count ballots than to oversee an automatic tabulation process. Such an effort would also require more physical space for all counting teams.

Election tabulation machines are typically put through rigorous testing, including pre-election logic and accuracy testing – in which test ballots with a known total of votes are run through the machines to ensure they produce the expected result. States across the country are increasingly adopting post-election risk mitigation audits, in which a sample of actual ballots are examined by hand to ensure the machine count is accurate.

“If you’re counting by machine, you can do an audit,” Merlino said. “But if you count by hand, what are you checking it against? What do you do, count by hand three or four times until you hopefully come to a consensus on the votes? »

Above all, election experts argue that manually counting large numbers of ballots is simply less reliable than automatic counting.

“When you’re talking to someone doing any type of repetitive work, especially counting under heavy time pressure, computers are absolutely better at counting than humans,” said project director Matthew Weil. campaign at the Bipartisan Policy Center. . “Some of these states have specific requirements that you keep counting until you get your final results. There are going to be all kinds of mistakes.


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