The Trump campaign and the Nevada Republican Party sued to stop election officials from counting mail-in ballots in the state's most populous county Friday until a "meaningful" election observation plan can be put in place.
The lawsuit, first reported by the Nevada Independent, requests a temporary restraining order to bar election officials from "separating or counting ballots" in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas and is home to more than 1.2 million registered voters and over 70% of the state's population. The lawsuit also asks a judge to order county officials to issue a plan that "assures immediate, meaningful observation" of the counting of ballots.
Carson City District Court Judge James Wilson denied the request Friday afternoon, but scheduled an evidentiary hearing on the case for next week, according to the Independent.
As of Friday morning, more than 190,000 mail-in ballots have been returned to election officials in Clark County, according to the Nevada secretary of state's office. Election officials in the state can begin counting absentee ballots 15 days before Election Day, which is less than two weeks away.
"There is strong public interest in this case and as the election is upon us and ballot processing has already begun, no adequate remedy exists for Petitioners to seek relief other than to request the Court's assistance," the complaint reads.
The complaint, which names Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and Clark County Registrar Joseph Gloria as defendants, comes days after a law firm representing the president's reelection campaign and the state GOP sent a letter to the secretary of state, claiming that Clark County officials had failed to submit a plan to accommodate election observers during the processing and counting of ballots as required by Nevada law. The complaint is also filed on behalf of Fred Kraus, a registered voter in Clark County who has volunteered as a poll watcher.
"One would hope that this is not a calculated attempt to allow Clark County to obstruct the observation process," attorney Brian R. Hardy wrote on behalf of Trump's campaign and the state Republican Party. "However, given recent complaints, observations and rejected accommodations, the reality in Clark County is obstruction."
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Clark County Election Department spokesperson Dan Kulin said the lawsuit includes "many misleading or inaccurate claims," adding that the department "has gone above and beyond to provide access to observers."
"While ensuring observers can be at the polling places and other locations as required by law, we have also created additional observation areas so the observers may see even more of our process," Kulin said. "We have met with representatives from both parties to discuss this issue and made some of the changes they have requested, and we will continue to work with them."
He added that during Friday's hearing the judge overseeing the case said the department was in compliance with the state statute on observation requirements.
The legal action is the latest of several cases that have been filed by the Trump campaign challenging pandemic-related mail-in voting plans. Last month, a US district judge dismissed a case challenging a law adopted by the Nevada state legislature this year directing local election officials to send ballots to all active registered voters due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Judge James Mahan found that the Trump campaign's claims that the state’s plan would lead to voter fraud were not only speculative but also not specific to the Republican challengers.
Friday's complaint alleges that Gloria has deemed certain areas where ballots are being handled as "off limits," that his actions "severely restricted election observers' freedom of movement," and that he positioned them "in such a manner that they cannot meaningfully observe."
The complaint states, "Observers are often restricted to locations more than 25 feet away from certain processes, from which they cannot see the computer screens or monitors of individual workers or observe calls made relative to the cure processes."
Among the lawsuit’s complaints are that observers have been barred from entering a call center where election officials contact voters about issues with signatures on their ballots. Nevada requires that a voter's signature on their ballot matches the one on their voter registration, and the state allows voters to fix or "cure" those ballots if it does not. Kulin told BuzzFeed News that no ballots are brought into the call center and that no counting occurs there either, noting that staff in the center “may be discussing personal information, such as birth date and the last four numbers of their social security number, with the voter on the phone."
"Legally, we must prevent the public from being able to collect that personal information," he said.
A spokesperson for the Nevada secretary of state declined to comment on the lawsuit.