[Image courtesy of flickr user zacharymaillard]
Last January, I wrote about a strange case in Mineral County, NV where a close county election was roiled by news that votes were missing and that they had actually been found hidden (or lost) in an election official’s desk:
According to the Mineral County Independent News, which broke the story, sources say the votes on the electronic cartridge and paper record from one of the county’s machines used during early voting may not have been part of the election night count.
They were instead found much later in the bottom of a desk drawer in the Clerk Treasurer’s office.
Those records are now in a vault in the clerk’s office while the district attorney and the secretary of state’s office try to figure out what happened and why.
Now, the truth about what happened may finally find its way to a courtroom after a lawsuit was filed in Mineral County alleging fraud in the 2014 election. The Mineral County Independent News is still on the story:
After months of speculation, a civil lawsuit has been filed in the case of missing votes in Mineral County in the 2014 general election.
New Mineral County Clerk Chris Nepper, who lost the November election but was appointed to the position by County Commissioners two weeks ago after Lorraine Haight stepped down, had the suit filed on his behalf by Reno attorney Ken McKenna last week in Carson District Court.
The lawsuit alleges voter fraud, and claims that the defendants knowingly covered up the mistake that lost him the election after 178 early votes were not counted in one precinct. Nepper lost his race to Haight by 88 votes.
The state of Nevada, the Secretary of State’s Office and Dominion Voting Systems were named in the suit, that goes on to claim that when the error was discovered, former clerk Cherrie George was directed by the Secretary of State’s office to fix the voter turnout numbers to match the amount of votes counted.
According the attorney filing the suit, the goal is to find out what happened and why:
“They got certified as the voting results when everybody knew they were falsified,” McKenna said to KOLO 8 News in Reno. “That’s voter fraud.”
McKenna added, “Was that for their own self-interest to assure the public? Was that on the benefit of the company so they don’t lose their contract? Why would you intentionally certify records that you know are the results of a malfunctioning machine?
Mineral County District Attorney Sean Rowe, with the assistance of The Secretary of State’s Office conducted an investigation into the missing votes earlier this year, and announced the results at a county commission last month. It was concluded that there were no signs of tampering or fraud with the voting machines, and the process as to which the votes were counted, Mineral County voter staff or to the rolls or cartridges themselves.
Here’s what the report said, based on a June story from KOLO8-TV, which has been closely following the case:
In the detailed account sent to KOLO 8 News Now and the Independent-News, [former clerk George] says when the question was first raised about one of the county’s machines registering no votes, she erroneously assumed the machine in question was one which had been taken down early election day because it was malfunctioning.
When that turned out not to be true, she says she spent considerable time communicating with the Secretary of State’s office and officials at Dominion, the company supplying the state’s election machinery and software.
It was determined, she says, that “All cartridges were read and processed successfully even though the votes case on one machine/cartridge failed to tally.”
While this inquiry was going on, she says she placed the cartridge and the paper record in a locked drawer in her desk for easy access.
“If I had intended to ‘hide’ the records,” she says, they wouldn’t have been left in a desk drawer which would soon be accessed by another elected officer.”
The question remained what had happened. How could an election machine cartridge be read, but the votes it contained not tallied?
She left office January 2nd without an answer, but ten days later received an explanation from the Secretary of State’s office.
Dominion, they said, had concluded that two of the election machine cartridges must have been registered with the same number.
George disagreed, saying that sort of error would have been caught at several stages in the process.
“I responded in great detail documenting why I disagreed,” she says. “I received no response.”
The explanation we’re left with, she says, is a technical problem with the election equipment or software.
In fact, she says, during her conversations with the Secretary of State’s office, “I was told similar situations had happened in at least two other Nevada counties, but that they had discovered the problem early enough to reprocess the cartridges prior to their counties’ Canvass of the Votes.”
The Secretary of State’s office has maintained throughout that it’s given the Mineral County District Attorney’s office the lead in the case and only offered assistance if needed. Others, including the losing candidates and George, doubt there’s anything happening.
George says she contacted Rowe as soon as she heard word of an investigation and said she was ready for answer any questions.
“I’m still waiting,” she says.
Finally, she says, she was told by the Secretary of State’s office that there’s nothing in Nevada law to address an error in the count once it’s been certified.
But she says to satisfy her own conscience she did add up the votes in the paper record for that machine.
“Based on the totals listed on the two printed rolls from the machine in question, if the total of votes cast for each individual candidate were to be added to the total of votes tallied and reported in the Canvass of the Votes, the win/loss outcome would be the same.” [George’s full account is linked here – ed].
The ripples of this case spread well beyond Mineral County – in fact, news of the lawsuit reached the Philippines, where Dominion manages voting equipment for ComElec, the national agency running the country’s elections. Even though the equipment in involved is completely different (in fact, the machines in question in Mineral County were originally produced and sold to Nevada by Sequoia, which was bought by Dominion), any allegation about machine malfunction is going to get attention … and not just locally, apparently.
It’s also worth noting that just like Mineral County’s election office, the Nevada Secretary of State’s office is “under new management” after Barbara Cegavske was elected in 2014 to replace outgoing Ross Miller.
This is a fascinating case, and has been ever since it popped up in my news feed way back in January. Hopefully, we’ll find out if the mess in Mineral County was the result of malfunction, misbehavior – or both.