Donald Trump’s campaign filed a lawsuit arguing that voting hours at four precincts in Nevada were improperly extended during early voting, the clearest signal yet that the Republican nominee could be looking to contest the results of Tuesday’s election should he lose.

The lawsuit was filed against Joseph P. Gloria, the Clark County registrar, who is responsible for voting in Nevada’s biggest county. In the filing, Trump’s campaign argues that polls were kept open late last Friday “to help Hillary Clinton,” his Democratic opponent.

In a statement released after the lawsuit was filed, Clark County officials noted that the lawsuit asks them to preserve early voting records, something that “is required by state law, and so it is something we are already doing.”

During a hastily convened hearing Tuesday morning in Clark County, a skeptical judge questioned the Trump campaign’s attorney about the filing and ultimately denied the campaign’s request to preserve evidence in the case.

Judge rejects Trump lawyer's Nevada lawsuit request (Reuters)

Judge Gloria Sturman expressed alarm, saying she believed the campaign’s filing was seeking to identify and harass poll workers and volunteers. The judge also said she was worried the Trump campaign’s lawsuit could be used to try to identify voters and who they voted for, which she called “offensive.” The Trump campaign denied it was trying to do so.

The lawsuit states that the Trump campaign is seeking to have the county set aside voting machines and ballots associated with the early voting last Friday and to keep them separate from other votes “in the event of post-election challenges.” The filing appeared to imply that these votes should be set aside from the others cast in the state, which could wind up being decided by a razor-thin margin.

According to state law, voters still in line when the polls are set to close in Nevada are allowed to stay in line until they have cast ballots. The Trump campaign’s lawsuit cited this law, saying that “the voters physically standing in line at 8:00 p.m. were inarguably entitled to vote,” but adding that the doors should have been closed to other voters.

County officials, however, said that the rules for lines during early voting are different than election day and as long as there are lines. “On Friday, most if not all of our early voting locations had lines of voters when their scheduled closing time passed,” Dan Kulin, a spokesman for Clark County, said in an email. “As has been our practice for many, many years those early voting locations continued processing voters until the lines were gone.”

At the court hearing, the judge denied the Trump campaign’s request to preserve evidence from four polling places, noting laws already exist requiring that evidence to be preserved. Since the lawsuit’s filing, many — including the judge, local officials and election law experts —  have pointed out the difficulty and puzzling nature of Trump’s lawsuit.

Clark County election officials said that voting machines cannot be separated and sequestered, as requested, because they are already in use again. And they also said all early-voting ballots have already been commingled with each other, which is done deliberately to preserve the secrecy of citizen’s votes.

In court, the Trump campaign’s lawyer gave what amounted to a preview of how they plan to argue their case that election officials acted improperly. The campaign hopes to identify volunteer poll workers who were working at the time early voting was supposed to end, grill them on whether they followed procedure and separate out the votes that were tabulated after a certain time of the night.

That legal strategy prompted an angry response from the judge: “These are people who give up their time, whether they’re county employees or citizens who simply believe in right to vote…It’s disturbing to me to think that those individuals might be harassed.”

“There will be no harassment,” the Trump campaign’s lawyer interjected.

“How can you say that. Do you watch Twitter? Have you watched any cable news show?” the judge shot back, noting the slugfest nature of this year’s election.

On Saturday, the chairman of the Nevada Republican Party said during a Trump rally that some polling locations were kept open “so a certain group could vote.” He specifically mentioned Clark County, asking the crowd: “You feel free right now? You think this is a free and easy election?”

The following day, Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said the campaign had no proof that Democratic voters were getting any special favors.

“We don’t believe polls should be open past the minute they are supposed to be,” she said during an appearance on CNN.

“But folks will be watching,” she added.

In a phone interview Tuesday on Fox News, Trump did not say whether he was expecting to argue with the outcome of the election.

However, Trump did say he believed there were reports of voter fraud happening across the country, claiming that some people were trying to vote for Republicans only for their selection to change to Democrats.

“It’s happening at various places today, it’s been reported,” he said. “The machines, you put down a Republican and it registers as a Democrat, and they’ve had a lot of complaints about that today.”

It was not immediately clear what accounts Trump was referring to when he mentioned “a lot of complaints” about the issue.

There was a report out of Clinton Township, an area near Pittsburgh, that quoted some voters saying their tickets were switching from Trump to Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent. According to that report, officials there said the machines were fixed and the problem resolved.

Donald Trump has called for his supporters to "watch" the polls in some cities. But claims of election rigging didn't begin with Trump's candidacy. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

Throughout Election Day, there have been a number of complaints nationwide of voter intimidation and some scattered reports of fraud across social media, as well as some reports of voting machines going down in a handful of states.

Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said there have been “more machine breakdowns and more malfunctions all over the place” this year than during prior campaigns.

Weiser said there have been reports of machine problems in multiple states, including general malfunctions as well as some cases of “vote slipping,” which is when a person uses a touch screen to vote for one candidate but the machine shows they voted for another candidate. It was unclear how widespread this issue was on Tuesday.

Sari Horwitz contributed to this report, which has been updated. 

Further reading: