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Nevada election officials talk staffing issues, need to combat misinformation


April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current
February 26, 2024

Nevada’s top election official pleaded with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to be proactive against the conspiracy theories and misinformation that are fueling distrust in the democratic process.

“Please, for the sake of the upcoming presidential election cycle, for election workers across this state, speak out about election misinformation,” Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar told lawmakers on an interim committee last week. “Each elected official in this room is in office because Nevada runs the most secure, fair and accessible elections in the country.”

His comments come as the dust settles on Nevada’s first presidential preference primary, a legislatively mandated election that the Nevada Republican Party chose to bypass in favor of holding their own privately run caucus. His office has also been dealing with criticism over an embarrassing technical error that resulted in voters seeing incorrect information about their voting history posted online.

Aguilar and other state elections officials said the problem was “a misinterpretation of code” that occurred as data files were transferred from the county to the statewide voter registration database. Some voters saw themselves listed on the official government website as having voted in the presidential preference primary when they had not.

The error did not involve ballot tabulation and did not impact the results of the presidential preference primary, the secretary of state’s office has emphasized. Vote histories listed online are not directly linked to those systems.

“It was just an incorrect message being displayed,” said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel di Chiara.

Still, the error has reignited conspiracy theories about voter fraud.

State and local election administrators told lawmakers they are feeling the impact of misinformation and confusion.

“Our phones blew up because of the confusion between the presidential preference primary and the caucus and how that all worked,” Carson City Clerk-Recorder Scott Hoen said. “People were asking why certain candidates didn’t appear on the presidential preference ballot, how can I vote or can I vote twice, and just what precinct do I live in? We referred a lot of those to the party. But it was significant in terms of interruption to our workflow.”

Aguilar implored state lawmakers to speak up against misinformation, using an example the Nevada Republican Party pushed hard during its presidential caucus. The party promoted their caucus as more secure because they were hand counting ballots, and some rural counties attempted to hand count their ballots.

“It’s a fact that hand-counting presents more risk to the tabulating process than machines,” said Aguilar decisively.

Election officials were asked to present to lawmakers about the elements of their jobs that might need to be addressed in future legislation. Salary levels for the full-time employees with election offices was a top concern among counties, as was salary levels for the top election officials.

Mark Wlaschin, the deputy secretary of state for elections, said there’s at least one instance of a rural clerk who makes several thousand dollars less than their employees because their salary as an elected official is dictated by state law. Those constraints don’t help with recruitment or retention of those crucial leadership roles, especially when considering how difficult the job is.

“No one wants to complain about the workload but the workload is significant,” said Wlaschin.

“Some have expressed that we’re relying on the patriotism, fidelity, and dedication of our county election officials and their staff. That’s a hard thing to continue to ask as we look to the three … potentially up to as many as six other (elections).”

Wlaschin was referencing the upcoming June primary, the November general, and several recall special elections that may occur.

Clark and Washoe counties have dedicated registrars of voters whose full-time job is administering elections. For Nevada’s other counties, elections are overseen by clerks who must balance elections with other duties, such as being county treasurer or recorder.

And new challenges are still arising.

Douglas County Clerk-Treasurer Amy Burgans said her county can normally count on 100 to 120 people signing up as election workers even before she advertises she’s hiring.

But for this year’s presidential preference primary, just 46 people signed up to work the polls.

Employees from other county departments stepped in to man the county’s vote centers on Election Day, but that came at an added cost to the county because they were paid their normal wage and not the $12 per hour temporary election workers typically make.

“I’m hoping that was just a hiccup in the fact that this was the first time we’ve done a presidential preference primary — they had other plans, they weren’t aware, whatever the situation was,” said Burgans. “I’m very hopeful they will come back for the primary and general election.”

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.