The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a rural county over its move to start hand-counting mail-in ballots two weeks before Election Day, saying it would violate state and federal laws.
The lawsuit is the latest effort to fight the Nye County commission’s plans to conduct the Nov. 8 election almost entirely with paper ballots and have the vote tallied by hand, in addition to machine tabulation. Election experts have warned that such measures could lead to lengthy delays and chaos.
The changes, encouraged by Jim Marchant, the Republican who is running for the state’s top election post, are rooted in baseless conspiracy theories being circulated on the right that voting machines are being used fraudulently.
Marchant, who has been vocal in challenging the 2020 presidential election result, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The suit was filed as an emergency request known as a writ and aims to stop the county from adopting the measures, said Athar Haseebullah, the ACLU’s executive director in the state.
“They’re treating our democracy as if it’s a game,” Haseebullah said. “It should be deeply offensive to everybody who cares about the process of election integrity.”
Mark Kampf, the Nye County clerk who was appointed to the post in August after the retirement of Sandra Merlino, who had warned against the changes, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The hand-counting process would be done in public; a presentation at a Sept. 20 county commissioners meeting indicated it would be streamed live and that “citizens become poll watchers at home.”
Haseebullah said that could have a “chilling effect” on voter turnout and potentially violate a state law that asserts that “no voting results of mail ballots may be released until all polling places are closed and all votes have been cast on the day of the election.”
“There is a long-standing tradition in the U.S. of not releasing results before Election Day,” said Gowri Ramachandran, senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program, which has urged the county against hand-counting. Voters could feel “manipulated by partial results coming out and making them feel like that their vote doesn’t count or their vote doesn’t matter,” Ramachandran said.
Kampf dismissed such concerns in an interview with The Associated Press, saying that “no one sees the total result in any place.”
The county is permitting the use of electronic voting machines for those with “special needs,” which the suit claims would violate state and federal privacy laws that prohibit inquiries about voters’ disability status.
Marchant, who blamed fraud for his 2020 loss in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, helped organize the “America First” slate of secretary of state candidates this year, all of whom have repeated former President Donald Trump’s election falsehoods. Marchant is competing against Cisco Aguilar, a Democratic lawyer who once worked for former Sen. Harry Reid.
Democrats have long been successful in Nevada, but this year, they are facing potential losses up and down the ballot in the state.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.