Las Vegas Sun

April 23, 2024

Security is top of mind for election officials in Clark County

Clark County Registrar of Voters Lorena Portillo

Wade Vandervort

Clark County Registrar of Voters Lorena Portillo is interviewed at the Clark County Election Department in North Las Vegas Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

Clark County is having regular election security meetings with state and federal officials leading up to the November general election to strengthen safety measures for poll workers and voters, said Lorena Portillo, the Clark County registrar of voters.

Portillo told the Sun last week that these meetings — including in December with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security— started ahead of the presidential preference primary last month and will be ongoing to discern what election officials “would be up against” with physical safety and cybersecurity measures.

“We go over safety points, best practices, protocols, all basically to prepare for the election,” Portillo said. “We have continuous security, of course, during election cycles at our facilities here at the election center, and at our training center, 24/7, during an election cycle.”

The 2023 Nevada Legislature passed Senate Bill 406, which makes it a felony to intimidate, coerce or cause any other “undue influence” on any election workers in the state. Portillo said the passing of the law was “a big sigh of relief” for the workers in the county’s election office.

Fourteen states passed similar protections after threats against poll workers skyrocketed following the 2020 election when then-President Donald Trump and his supporters falsely claimed widespread fraud.

Both Portillo and Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar said there have been no threats against Clark County officials since SB 406 was enacted. Neighboring states in the Southwest U.S. haven’t been as fortunate.

In Arizona, Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman announced in February he wouldn’t seek reelection after years of threats against him for certifying the 2020 presidential results. President Joe Biden narrowly defeated the incumbent Trump, precipitating desperation tactics to alter the results from many Trump supporters.

Mark Rissi, a 44-year-old Iowa resident, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years for threats against Hickman. One such threat: Rissi would hang Hickman.

Hickman said that since 2020 his job has only gotten “worse and worse.”

That climate nationally is affecting the ability for election officials to hire poll workers, Aguilar said.

“People aren’t willing to do it as they were before, and I think because of what they’ve seen in the past occur, that is not sitting well with individuals,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar last week told The Associated Press that he wants lawyers who volunteer at the polls to be able to earn continuing education credits to fulfill annual requirements set by the State Bar of Nevada.

It’s a signal of how lawyers are increasingly seen as ideal candidates for stepping in as poll workers, with the positions having grown harder to fill as once-obscure county election departments have been thrust into the spotlight.

Aguilar likens it to how doctors and nurses stepped up during the pandemic.

“Everybody needed medical care during the time of COVID. ... And this is a time when we need poll workers,” Aguilar told The Associated Press. “That legal community can stand up and protect the Constitution.”

From swing states like Michigan to conservative strongholds like Tennessee and Iowa, election officials have been tapping lawyers and law students as they struggle to fill poll worker spots — a challenge that has become more difficult amid changing procedures and hostility stemming from Trump’s attacks on elections.

Those attacks included six Nevada Republicans participating in a scheme that would have falsely given the state’s electoral votes to Trump in 2020. The deception was part of a coordinated effort by Trump loyalists in a handful of other states, but the meetings of these so-called fake electors had no legal standing.

The six Republicans — led by GOP Nevada Chairman Michael McDonald — have since been indicted by a grand jury and pleaded not guilty. They are due in court this week.

Aguilar also praised Portillo’s efforts to expand the number of poll workers in Clark County and to diversify who is representing the electorate, adding that poll workers are the “unsung heroes” of the democratic process.

“She did a great job at filling her gaps for poll workers, she was very creative in her approach,” Aguilar said. “She looked at traditional groups, who haven’t served as poll workers in the past. And I think those are some of the things that’s what we need to do right now to be creative.”

Portillo assured the maximum level of care and security is being used with voting machines, mail-in ballots and all voting materials, and that the county wants to do everything it can to make the election process better.

Candidate filing for county municipal elections opens today, with dozens of positions — including the U.S. Senate seat held by Jacky Rosen, a Democrat — up for election. The primary is June 11.

“We’re excited that we’re able to begin the year, the true starter is candidate filing,” Portillo said. “But we’ve been working towards these days for many, many months.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.