Humboldt County Clerk Tami Spero speaks before the county commission regarding allegations of improperly handling recall petitions. Spero cited several NRS statutes and input from the Secretary of State and maintains she acted within the law.
Humboldt County Clerk Tami Spero speaks before the county commission regarding allegations of improperly handling recall petitions. Spero cited several NRS statutes and input from the Secretary of State and maintains she acted within the law.
During the public comment portion of the Humboldt County Commissioners’ Jan 24 special meeting, Humboldt County citizen Shelly Kyllo-Reader raised the question about election integrity. “My concern is for the integrity of elections in Humboldt County,” Kyllo-Reader said. “There now exists mistrust between the county clerk's office, the sheriff's office and the public. This mistrust was brought about by the recall petition signature being thumbed through before they were certified by the state, and further enhanced by social media postings….”

Kyllo-Reader questioned what oversight will be implemented for any future elections including special elections related to recall efforts. “People are now concerned for the integrity of the elections in Humboldt County. I am here asking what oversight will be implemented for the special election. If there is no oversight for this election, at least open the question as to the integrity or validity of any elections in Humboldt County.” 

In a follow-up email after the meeting, Humboldt County Clerk Tami Spero wrote, “As to transporting the election items from Paradise and Orovada, ballots themselves have not been transported for years. What is transported are the Election Machines and the results cartridges. Both the machines and the cartridges are sealed via tamper resistant methods in secure bags by the poll workers on-site. If the seals were to be tampered with they change in a certain way to identify that. 

“Again these are not ballots but a type of electronic device that contains the election results. What has always occurred in the past (even during contested Sheriff’s races) is that the deputies serve as both the security on site for the close of the polls in those areas and then they take the sealed equipment and transport it back to the County meeting room. They notify us through dispatch when they arrive on site and when they depart so that we can determine when they will arrive. Once they arrive they sign the election items over to the receiving clerk.”

The integrity of the recall petition was called into question in December when allegations were made that Spero had allowed Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Allen, who is the subject of a recall, to view the petition before the signatures had been verified by the Nevada Secretary of State. However, according to Nevada Revised Statutes, petitions are a matter of public record and anyone — including elected officials and the general public — can request access to the documents.

Petitions subject to public records laws 

In a statement read to the commissioners during the special meeting, Spero said that the language in NRS 293.1276 subsection 3 “covers all petition processes and … used for all types of petitions, [it] is generally aimed at state-wide petitions which  are received and maintained by the Nevada Secretary of State's Office.” Spero went on to explain that “when one reviews additional citations within said statute, the language included in NRS 293.1277 subsection 10 appears to be more on point for this particular situation.”

Specifically, the statute says, “For any petition containing signatures which are required to be verified pursuant to NRS 293.200, which is independent candidates qualifications, petitions for candidacy, NRS 306.035 petition for recall, or 306.110 nominating petition for any county, district or municipal office within one county, the county clerk shall not transmit to the Secretary of State the documents containing the signatures of the registered voters."

The recall petition falls within the purview of NRS 293 and thus is subject to Nevada state public records laws which require local government entities to provide “not only access to inspect and copy public books and records … but also that the provisions of the chapter must be construed liberally to carry out this important purpose and that prompt access to inspect, copy, or receive a copy is necessary per amendment via SB287 of the 2019 legislative session.”

Spero included the contents of an email sent by Nevada Deputy Secretary of State Wayne Thorley received Oct. 29, 2019, in which he stated, "that if a person signs the recall petition, there is no guarantee of confidentiality. The sheriff, his supporters or anybody else can request a copy of all signed petition papers from your office, and you (the Clerk) would have to provide them. The State Public Record Act, found in chapter 239 of NRS, is very clear on this. Unless a record is declared by law to be confidential, it is a public record and must be made available for public inspect. … There is no specific statute or law that declares recall petitions are confidential, so they are public record. … The State Public Records Act creates a strong presumption, absent any specific law to the contrary, that signed recall petitions are a public record.”

Spero further stated that additional language added to NRS 239.0107 requires government personnel to “Make a reasonable effort to assist the requester [of public records] to focus the request in such a manner as to maximize the likelihood the requester will be able to inspect, copy or receive a copy of the public book or record as expeditiously as possible.”

Spero also addressed the timeline as to when Sheriff Allen had access to the documents. Spero said following the 45-day filing of the petition, her office received a call asking if the petition had been filed. She confirmed to the caller it had. According to Spero, a short time later Sheriff Allen and Humboldt County Sheriff Captain Wilkin appeared and asked to view the petition. “As the petition was being scanned,” Spero said, “I denied the request but indicated that they could try again later in the day.” 

Spero said following the scanning of the documents, she told a member of her staff to notify the sheriff that the petition could be viewed. “Again, the sheriff and Captain Wilkin appeared in my office and while one of my deputies stood with them, inspected the original document. They made no notes, took no photos, nor did they alter the document in any way.” 

Spero told the commissioners she has been a clerk and with the county since 2003 and that in her estimation she acted within the law. “I submit I acted in the appropriate manner in allowing the members of the public, in this case, the public officer subject to recall included, to inspect the petition documents submitted to my office as they were and are public records. I further state that the same access would have been provided to any member of the public requesting the same and that no special consideration or allowances were provided to Sheriff Mike Allen.”