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Nevada secretary of state pushes training, manual amid high turnover

Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar
Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar
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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Amid widespread turnover among county election officials in Nevada as the 2022 midterms approached, the clerks and registrars thrust into new roles often had a dual approach: running elections while learning how they operate.

Democratic secretary of state Cisco Aguilar vowed to address the loss of institutional election knowledge to a state Senate committee Thursday, perpetrated in-part by election denialism and hostility toward election officials, along with adapting to changing election laws and a host of other duties that some clerks and clerk-treasurers are tasked. This includes managing decades of public documents and safeguarding millions in public funds.

The fallout has been stark: 10 of the state’s 17 counties have changed top election officials since 2020. Several left in the months leading up to the pivotal 2022 midterms. The departures included large portions of county election staffs and the secretary of state’s elections office, where eight of the department’s 11 positions experienced turnover between the 2020 election and October 2022.

Aguilar, who took office in January, presented a bill that would mandate his office to prepare biennial training courses and an elections procedures manual for county and city clerks, which would be at-the-ready for sudden departures and new staff heads leading up to the 2024 election and beyond. Several county clerks and voting rights groups testified in support of the bill.

“We have to be ready and prepared to deal with the team changing talent,” Aguilar testified to the Senate’s legislative operations and elections committee. “And given the fact that we are now putting elections at the forefront of a lot of our discussions, we need to make sure that we (have) consistency throughout 17 counties.”

Top county election officials would be required to attend the biennial training and the election manual would be approved by the state’s Attorney General and made public. It would be tailored to get new election officials up to speed quicker, a challenge the office expects to continue for years to come.

Public comment during there hearing grew contentious at times.

Opposition came from some with concerns about the manual coming from the state, rather than individual counties.

Some did not trust the validity of the state’s universal mail ballot laws, Dominion Voting Machines or general elections processes. There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Nevada or in Dominion Voting Machines despite unfounded claims running rampant in parts of the state, leading to some pushes for hand-counting. It has also led some county election officials to resign after harassment and threats.

“I do want to reiterate that our current secretary of state, a registered Democrat and our past secretary of state, a registered Republican, have both firmly stated that there has been no evidence of any widespread election fraud,” committee chair Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) said after public comment ran off topic from the bills in discussion. “Those comments are completely out of line.”

The bill is one of several measures the secretary of state’s office is proposing this legislative session, which will end eight months before Nevada’s 2024 primaries.

Aguilar has talked extensively about pushing a bill making it a felony to harass, intimidate or threaten election workers or volunteers. On Friday, he is expected to introduce a bill adding “state election officials” to the list of people who can request their addresses be kept confidential, which is already granted for county and city clerks.

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His office also has asked for $30 million to speed up the launch of a new centralized voter registration system to two years rather than a timeline of four to six years. Every county currently manages its own voter database system.

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