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Trump Campaign Files Last-Ditch Emergency Appeal Attacking Nevada Mail-in Ballot Counting

CARSON CITY, NV – OCTOBER 18: President Donald Trump gestures during a campaign rally on October 18, 2020 in Carson City, Nevada.

President Donald Trump‘s reelection campaign filed a last-minute lawsuit against Nevada’s most populous county in an effort to cast doubt on the validity of mail-in ballot counting procedures there.

The 48-page filing begins by ominously citing the good-government foundation founded by and named after former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan.

“[F]or elections to have integrity, they must be conducted competently in a professional, non-partisan, and transparent manner, and just as importantly, voters must have confidence in their conduct,” the lawsuit states. The chosen quotation reflects the GOP’s argument that election officials in Clark County, Nevada–where Las Vegas is located–are not conducting the 2020 election with the integrity necessary for confidence in the ultimate vote.

Specifically, the 45th president’s campaign apparatus and the Nevada Republican Party say they are unable “to meaningfully observe the processing of mail ballots [emphasis theirs].”

The petition goes on to detail those complaints:

Currently, Respondent Joseph Gloria, the Clark County Registrar, is prohibiting observers from witnessing the duplication of mail ballots, a phase of processing particularly susceptible to fraud through ballot manipulation, and unlawfully using a machine to verify signatures, even though Nevada law requires that verification be accomplished by a human. The vote-by-mail system currently being used in Clark County creates a process ripe for error or abuse thereby diluting the votes of Nevadans outside Clark County.

In many counties across the country, damaged ballots are often rejected by optical scanners which requires election officials to practice the above-referenced “duplication” remedy. Some counties refer to this as ballot enhancement instead.

Either way, and accounting for procedural inconsistencies from county to county, the process generally requires that damaged ballots are segregated, assigned serial or control numbers and then transferred to a fresh ballot. The original ballots are voided and the new ballots are identified as duplicates. The duplicate ballots are then set aside for counting while the damaged ballots are stored separately in case of a recount.

The Trump campaign’s emergency petition frames the issue as a matter of complying with Nevada state election law related to observing “the delivery, counting, handling and processing of ballots at a polling place, receiving center or central counting place.”

Under Nevada law, the secretary of state must approve an observation plan for balloting–but the lawsuit claims the plan was never actually approved and is therefore illegal.

“Although the Secretary of State reviewed the plan and made suggestions, she never approved it,” the lawsuit argues. “Accordingly, the [Clark County] Registrar is currently operating under an unlawful observation plan. In addition to being unlawful, the observation plan fails to ensure transparency and integrity as it does not allow the public to see election officials during key points of mail ballot processing.”

But at its heart, the complaint attacks the very concept of duplicating damaged ballots.

The filing explains those concerns at length:

Once the envelope is opened, the ballot is separated from the envelope and inspected to determine if any deficiencies would obstruct it from being fed through a tabulation machine. If any deficiencies exist, the ballot is hand duplicated by being placed in a green envelope for a “runner” to take into a small room known as the “MB Vault” and match with a blank ballot from the voter’s precinct. The runner often goes into the room alone, sometimes even with a writing instrument, and closes the door. The runner then leaves the MB Vault with the voter’s ballot and a blank ballot and takes them to duplicators who allegedly duplicate the voter’s choices on the clean ballot, so it can be fed through a tabulation machine.

“This provides an opportunity for a careless or unscrupulous official to mark choices for any unfilled elections or questions on the ballot, potentially substantially affecting down ballot races where there are often significant undervotes,” the lawsuit continues. “Indeed, one observer has already witnessed a runner writing on or near a ballot.”

In terms of relief, Trump and the Silver State GOP want the court to pause Clark County’s duplication process until they are fully satisfied that their vote observers are well-situated. Additionally, they are asking the court to tell Clark County election officials that they cannot use an algorithm to conduct signature matching analysis–the Republicans want this process done entirely by human hands.

The last-ditch Election Day effort comes right after a recent loss on the exact same issues.

As Law&Crime previously reported, a Nevada judge publicized their rejection of the Trump campaign’s efforts on Monday–the day before the election. The actual decision was issued on October 29 but a long holiday precluded publication of that loss until then.

“There is no evidence that any vote that should be lawfully counted has been or will not be counted,” Carson City District Court Judge Judge James Wilson wrote over the weekend. “There is no evidence that any vote that should lawfully not be counted has been or will be counted. There is no evidence that any election worker did anything outside of the law, policy or procedures. Petitioners do not have standing.”

Tuesday’s emergency motion is directed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Notably, and in a move some legal observers said was unusual, the Trump campaign also filed an eleventh-hour lawsuit that aims to keep certain polling locations in Clark County open later than scheduled.

Update: As requested by the Trump campaign, the judge in the second lawsuit agreed to expand voting times at key locations:

[image via Stephen Lam/Getty Images]

Editor’s note: this article has been amended post-publication to account for new developments.

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