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Trump and allies pitch yet another woeful voter-fraud theory in Nevada

Demonstrators outside the Clark County Election Department in North Las Vegas on Nov. 6. (Mikayla Whitmore for The Washington Post)
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President Trump’s and his allies’ scattershot hunt for voter fraud appears to have landed on its new target: a race in Nevada that elections officials have moved to redo because of ballot discrepancies.

To hear Trump and his allies tell it, it’s something amounting to a voter-fraud smoking gun. As usual, the truth is far less compelling.

“Big victory moments ago in the State of Nevada,” Trump tweeted, adding that the “County Commissioner race, on same ballot as President, just thrown out because of large scale voter discrepancy. Clark County officials do not have confidence in their own election security. Major impact!”

Trump allies went even further. Richard Grenell, his former acting director of national intelligence, stated late Monday that “they just threw out 153k ballots for a County Commission race because of fear of fraud.” By Tuesday morning, he upped the ante even further and claimed that it wasn’t just fear of fraud.

The argument is basically: If this result can’t be trusted, how can the results in the presidential race be? Nevada is one of several closely decided states, and the Trump campaign is pursuing legal action there. Trump and Grenell even alluded to the fact that the presidential race also appeared on those ballots, apparently suggesting that those votes are now in question, too.

The language they use, though, is highly misleading and sometimes demonstrably false.

At issue is a race for the Clark County Commission, where 153,000 ballots were indeed cast. There are discrepancies with a very limited number of them — 139, to be exact. That represents less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the votes.

The reason they have moved to redo the election is because the current margin of victory is also exceedingly small — just 10 votes, or less than one-100th of 1 percent. Election officials in Nevada have a history of holding redo special elections in smaller races when the results are so tight and they may not have confidence that they can resolve the discrepancies. They did so most recently in a 2018 Republican primary for the county commission in which the margin was four votes.

In other words, it’s highly misleading to say that 153,000 votes are being “thrown out.” That makes it sound as though those ballots may be invalid. In fact, a minuscule number of them are in question, but the margin of victory is even more minuscule. There is no reason to doubt the validity of the vast, vast majority of votes, which will still apply in the other races on the ballot.

The second key point is that, even among this smaller group of votes, there is no evidence of fraud. Joe Gloria, the Clark County registrar, noted Monday that discrepancies are common and are generally not fraud. The number of discrepancies countywide is almost identical to the number in this specific race, with 936 of them. Even if that were extrapolated to the entire state, it would account for about 1,500 disputed votes — far shy of President-elect Joe Biden’s 33,600-vote margin.

Gloria did identify six people who were recorded as voting twice, but he emphasized that even that isn’t clearly because of fraud. “We don’t know if that’s fraud yet,” he said, according to NSNV-TV. “We’re going to get investigators on that. We’ll talk to these folks and it might be an elderly person who inadvertently did it.”

What’s more, even Stavros Anthony, the Trump-supporting GOP candidate in the race, does not back up the suggestions of fraud. His campaign manager, Lisa Mayo-DeRiso, told the Nevada Independent after Trump’s tweet Monday that Anthony’s campaign “has never subscribed to the conspiracy side of that.”

“What we’ve consistently talked about is human error,” Mayo-DeRiso said. “I don’t care if you’re counting ballots or making pizzas, there’s going to be errors.”

So Trump’s claim of a “large scale voter discrepancy” just isn’t true. And the idea that 153,000 ballots are being thrown out because of fear of fraud is highly misleading — at best.

It’s all part of a long-standing effort to use complicated processes to hint at something more nefarious, when there is little to no reason to think that anything nefarious happened. And even if it somehow did or the ballots were found to be invalid for another reason, we’re not talking about something that would change the result in the presidential race. Even if all of them were for Biden and were invalidated, he would lose less than one-20th of his margin of victory.

Is it unusual that elections officials would redo the election rather than pursue an intensive recount? Perhaps. But it’s not because of some kind of inordinate number of suspicious ballots or behavior. It’s because the race is exceedingly close. Nevada sometimes prefers to rerun smaller and cheaper races rather than pursue extensive recounts.

And there’s even a precedent for redoing a federal election that couldn’t be resolved. It happened in a Senate race in New Hampshire in 1974. The margin of victory was initially 10 votes, and a year of legal wrangling was unable to produce an obvious winner. Fraud was not even alleged.