Complaints lead commissioners to seek more info on Incline Village poll worker
RENO, Nev. — Washoe County commissioners are seeking more information on allegations that a sitting Incline Village trustee violated election laws while serving as a poll worker in 2018, after several residents resurfaced the allegations and accused the county elections official of a “cover up” Tuesday.
The trustee facing the allegations, Phil Horan, believes the complaints are part of a politically motivated effort to try and force his resignation from the board, which is responsible for overseeing the Incline Village General Improvement District.
Complaints were originally made to the Washoe County Registrar of Voters Office and the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office around the time of the 2018 primary.
Those allegations include claims that Horan, who has volunteered as a poll worker since the early 2000s and was elected to the IVGID board in 2016 after being appointed to it in 2015, was telling voters which candidates to vote for in the 2018 primary race for IVGID trustee.
The current makeup of the IVGID board usually falls along a 3-2 divide, with Horan typically siding with Chair Kendra Wong and Trustee Peter Morris.
The Secretary of State’s Office received four complaints regarding Horan and investigated them all, according to Jennifer Russell, public information officer for the secretary’s office. None of those investigations found evidence supporting the accusations.
“Several of the complaints included second-hand accounts that Mr. Horan was telling voters who they should vote for while serving as a poll worker,” Russell told the Tribune in an email. “This turned out to be hearsay and was not supported by first-hand accounts.”
Now almost exactly one year after the election in question, a handful of Incline residents have resurfaced the allegations due to remarks they say were made during a Incline Village / Crystal Bay Republican Women’s luncheon.
Several people claiming to be in attendance at the event have said that Jonathan Brown, who handles outreach efforts for the Washoe County Registrar of Voters Office, told the group that Horan had been fired as a poll worker in the 2018 primary after an investigation into complaints of vote tampering.
The claim was broadcast in several different online forums, which Horan says led him to reach out to the Registrar’s Office to try to get clarification on the matter.
Registrar of Voters Deanna Spikula responded to Horan — on the same day she received a letter from Incline Village resident Frank Wright — with an email detailing how her office would respond to media inquiries on the matter.
The statement said, in part, that the Registrar’s Office has never confirmed there was an investigation into Horan’s conduct as a poll worker, nor has it made any determinations based on the allegations.
The statement goes on to say that complaints regarding election law violations are handled at the state level, not by the Registrar’s Office. It adds that Horan was asked to step down “not because of any determination of wrongdoing but out of an abundance of caution to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Horan made a similar remark to the Tribune, saying he agreed to step down as a poll worker. He also rejected the accusations against him.
“I categorically deny ever having to try to tell people how to vote any time …”
Wright, a regular critic of IVGID and the three-member majority on the board, told the Tribune he sees the timeline of events as evidence of “conspiracy” and a “cover up” on the part of the registrar.
“It’s horrible,” Wright said, prior to calling for a complete investigation of the issue.
His and several others’ comments Tuesday at the Washoe County commissioners meeting prompted three commissioners to express concern.
“I’m very concerned with this issue …” Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler said Tuesday.
She added that she too had received complaints in 2018 but had heard nothing from the Registrar’s Office recently.
Commissioner Kitty Jung said she too was contacted by some voters and that she had concerns.
She suggested the county craft a policy barring elected officials and family members of elected officials from serving as poll workers.
State law currently prohibits candidates on the ballot and their relatives from serving as election board officers. There is no law prohibiting a current elected official who is not on the ballot from serving as an election board officer.
In an interview with the Tribune, Spikula said she has not had an opportunity to talk with the commissioners yet. However, she has already made it a policy going forward to prohibit elected officials from serving as poll workers.
The new directive, she said, is intended to prevent any perception problems or similar issues going forward.
Nothing in Horan’s past service as a poll worker would indicate problems, Spikula added.
“Other than the few complaints before and after the election we have no reason to believe that Phil was acting in any capacity other than what is appropriate (for a poll worker),” she said.
For his part, Horan thinks the allegations are politically motivated and an attempt to shake up the IVGID board.
“It’s my opinion they’re trying to do an end run to get somebody off the board and get an appointment made.”