By GABE STERN Associated Press/Report for America

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada’s secretary of state on Friday refused to lift a ban on the controversial manual counting of mail-in ballots in a rural county, saying a modified procedure proposed by the county clerk raises still “concerns about the integrity of the election.”

Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske last week ordered Nye County to suspend its manual counting of ballots until the polls close Nov. 8. His order came after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union’s objections to the reading. individual votes aloud.

In a letter to the county on Friday, Cegavske urged county officials to update or better explain their silent manual count proposal with more detail.

But the move makes it increasingly difficult for Nye County to review, submit, gain approval and implement plans for manually counting mail-in ballots before the polls close. on polling day.

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Meanwhile, the ACLU and the sprawling, heavily GOP county halfway between Reno and Las Vegas continued to argue over the circumstances that led to an election official, who openly carried a gun, pulling out a watcher from the ACLU of the manual count that lasted two days. before Cegavske suspended him last Thursday night.

Nye County attorneys said in a new letter to Cegavske on Friday that the legally armed Nye County GOP Central Committee Chairman was acting as a hand count volunteer trained by the acting county clerk, Mark Kampf, when she confronted the ACLU observer whom she believed was counting the vote count in violation of recount rules.

The ACLU reacted quickly and the dispute could last beyond Election Day. But the rejection of the county’s late proposal to resume manual counting in silence puts early counting of absentee ballots almost out of reach when the polls close.

Kampf proposed three pointers and a checking team with two independent checkers who mostly worked separately, so there would be no reader calling each ballot or checker, looking over the reader’s shoulder .

Cegavske listed a number of concerns as she explained why she would need more details before allowing the count to resume.

She noted that the silent manual count will require the “complete focused attention” on each ballot by the pointers, which will prevent them from noticing when other pointers make erroneous marks or errors.

“Furthermore, there is no provision in your plan outlining the required use of medical-style gloves to further mitigate the risk of cheating or accidental marking, nor a prescribed and standardized pointing device to ensure that any new marks can be quickly identified,” she said. said.

Nye County is one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to act on election conspiracies related to distrust of voting machines, though other counties in Nevada have considered using manual counts instead. ‘coming.

Earlier Friday, county attorneys dismissed the ACLU’s recent accusations of a “coordinated partisan election administration effort” in a letter to Cegavske’s office asking for an investigation into the hand count. Hours later, the ACLU responded, doubling down on its concerns.

The ACLU’s complaint about the removal of its observer by Nye County GOP Central Committee Vice Chair Laura Larsen raised concerns about Kampf’s delegation of authority to partisan officials to remove observers from manual counting rooms, especially during a manual counting process dealing with the tabulation of ballots.

In addition to noting that Nevada is an open state, attorneys for Nye County said the county understands that Larsen, a trained volunteer, never threatened to use the gun. The county also argued that the note-taking jeopardized the release of early voting results and said there was no partisan conspiracy under its hand count plan.

Larsen’s position as Nye County GOP Central Committee Vice Chair “does not limit or invalidate her ability to participate as a poll worker/volunteer,” the response added.

But the ACLU said in a letter to the secretary of state’s office that the county’s response “further underscores that Larsen is in fact not serving in a neutral capacity” and remains active in partisan leadership.

In an interview with The Associated Press after the first day of hand counting, Larsen said his role was to “make sure things happen the way Mark (Kampf) has it all set up. So just make sure election integrity.” She did not respond to an email seeking comment on Friday.

Of the 97 Nye County volunteers, 70 were registered Republicans, 16 were Democrats, 10 were nonpartisan or had no political party and one was from the Independent American Party, according to data the AP received via a request for public records. The county later declined to give the party breakdown for each of the individual hand tally rooms, which each had five people: a reader, a checker and three tallies.

The county also declined to provide the party breakdown for an updated number of volunteers, which was 102 on the first day of the manual count. Former President Donald Trump won about 69% of Nye County in the 2020 election, although he lost Nevada by about 2.4%.

Nye County has just over 33,000 registered voters and plans to use a hand count as a secondary tabulation method for Dominion tabulators. Kampf raised the possibility of moving away from tabulators in the 2024 cycle for a single manual count.

Two hand-counting groups observed by the AP on the first day took about three hours each to count a batch of 50 ballots.