By: Ed Pearce/KOLO 8 News Now with Heidi Bunch/Mineral County Independent News
HAWTHORNE, NV – This much we know. On election night, 178 votes, all on one machine used in early voting in Mineral County, did not register in the official count.
That’s a sizeable chunk in this rural county, enough to potentially change the outcome in three local races.
The problem only came to light a month ago, when the Mineral County Independent News broke the story and it was learned the electronic cartridge and the paper roll from that machine were discovered in a locked drawer in the clerk-treasurer’s office.
This news touched off a flood of angry accusations and threats of legal action from losing candidates in the three races, and, according to District Attorney Sean Rowe, a joint investigation by his office and the Secretary of State.
The whole controversy was played out at a county commission meeting in Hawthorne Feb. 18. Several residents demanded answers. Rowe insisted he was committed to answering them, insisting an investigation was ongoing.
Throughout it all, former Clerk-Treasurer Cherrie George had remained silent, but finally toward the end of the meeting she rose to say she’d done nothing wrong and, she said if there was an ongoing investigation by anyone, it was news to her.
“The one person who can tell exactly what happened has not even been officially questioned. Not by our local Mineral County district attorney or anyone at the Secretary of State’s office.”
In the detailed account sent to KOLO 8 News Now and the Independent-News, she 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 Jan. 2 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.”
Thus far there’s been no comment from the Secretary of State’s office, which has maintained throughout that they’ve given the Mineral County District Attorney’s office the lead in the case and only offered their 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.”
As to the question many Mineral County residents are asking, “Was my vote counted?”
“I can’t answer that question because to be honest,” she says, “I don’t know what machine you used. Because I no longer have access to the election records, I can’t even tell you what machine didn’t get counted. However, others who have had access to those records since I left office might have told you what machine didn’t get counted; maybe even exactly where it was located during the period of Early Voting. Perhaps you remember what machine you used or maybe someone saw you use a particular machine. I voted during Early Voting but I honestly don’t remember what machine I used so I don’t know if your vote was counted any more than I know if my vote was counted.”
We’ve posted her entire account here; just look at the pdf linked to the right. It will also be published in Thursday’s edition of the Mineral County Independent News. We’ve cooperated with Independent News reporter Heidi Bunch in reporting this story.