12 April 2023
After multiple rural counties attempted to eliminate or consider eliminating the use of mechanical voting machines last year, Nevada lawmakers are considering a bill that would require such machines to be used for in-person voting.
The change would primarily affect Nye County, where county officials last year transitioned away from the use of electronic voting machines amid the spread of election fraud conspiracy theories that targeted Dominion Voting Systems, a major manufacturer and provider of voting equipment nationally and in Nevada.
AB242, which comes from the Joint Interim Standing Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections, would prohibit the use of paper ballots for in-person voting, instead requiring the use of voting machines for in-person voting. Voting machines used in Nevada include the Dominion electronic voting machines used in 15 counties, including Clark and Washoe counties, and mechanical ballot marking devices used in Carson City and Lander County.
Assemblywoman Tracy Brown-May (D-Las Vegas) presented the bill and said the measure was intended to “address the inadequacies in accessibility for people with disabilities to be able to cast their votes.”
As some rural counties considered eliminating the use of voting machines between the 2020 and 2022 elections, election officials raised concerns that doing so would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA and the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, jurisdictions conducting federal elections are required to provide at least one accessible voting system for people with disabilities at each polling place.
A proposed amendment to the bill from the secretary of state’s office would also stipulate that ballots “shall be counted by … mechanical voting system.” Gabriel Di Chiara, chief deputy secretary of state, said that provision was a response to the “issue of hand counting in the state of Nevada” — a reference to Nye County officials’ attempt last election to hand count ballots that was curtailed by the Nevada Supreme Court over concerns it would violate state law.
“We know from studies that are both academic and practical that a machine is better at counting ballots than any group of people could be, especially when you need to follow the procedures laid out in statute and regulation,” Di Chiara said. “We believe that in order for Nevada’s elections to remain as trusted as they are, to have the same high standard of accuracy and security, that that means counting ballots mechanically and not by hand.”
The bill received support from some voter and disability advocacy groups, but faced backlash from the Nevada Republican Party, conservative voters and members of the public who expressed distrust in the security of the state’s voting machines. Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf also testified in opposition to the bill, saying that out of more than 6,400 voters who voted in person in Nye County during the 2022 general election, only 249 used a voting machine designated for voters with disabilities, while all others voted in person using the same paper ballot mailed to voters.
“Since the voters in our county overwhelmingly support the use of all-paper ballots, they should not be denied the ability to vote in the method of their choosing because they wish to exercise that right in person rather than sending their ballot through the mail, which they do not trust,” Kampf said.
The bill has also been opposed by Robert Beadles, a major Republican donor based in Washoe County who has spread conspiracy theories about Nevada’s elections. Last month, he sent an email to members of the committee urging their opposition to the proposal and telling them that supporting the bill would mean “disenfranchising every legal Nevadan voter, and … breaking countless laws that would strip your immunity away.”
If the bill is approved, people would still be able to vote using paper ballots through the state’s universal mail-in ballot system adopted in 2021 that requires election administrators to send a mail ballot to every registered voter during each election — unless a registered voter has opted not to receive a mail ballot.
Another portion of the bill aimed at improving accessibility for voters with disabilities would increase the required number of voting booths “specifically designed, designated and equipped for voters who are elderly or voters with a disability” from one booth to at least two at each polling place.
Mark Wlaschin, deputy secretary of state for elections, noted various types of equipment in place meant to provide that accessibility, including mechanical audio units to assist blind voters and “sip and puff” capabilities for those unable to move. He also said the bill would not require “a massive purchase” of new machines, and that many polling places already have multiple accessible machines.
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