Workers set up quarantine trailers to temporarily house people with COVID-19 on March 31, 2020. Reno Gazette Journal
Democrats fear strict new limits on in-person polling places will lead to dangerous overcrowding
The Nevada State Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit to force changes to the state’s “unconstitutional” vote-by-mail primary election plan.
The 65-page suit, filed in Carson City District Court on Thursday, was heralded in a joint statement from several prominent Democrats, including Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez.
“These steps are essential to holding a safe, fair, and accessible election on June 9,” Perez wrote. “In the midst of a global pandemic, our leaders should be working to help us safely exercise our right to vote — not standing in the way.
“It’s never been more urgent to take action that will expand access to voting, protect public health, and preserve Nevadans’ right to make their voices heard.”
The court filing follows a nearly weeklong back-and-forth between top Nevada Democrats and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the state’s top elections official and the GOP’s lone statewide officeholder.
It all started with a Friday letter urging Cegavske to “avoid litigation” by sending ballots to all registered Nevada voters, not just those her office considers active voters.
Attorneys for the state party also called on Cegavske to expand the number of “well-organized and hygienic” primary election polling places permitted under strict new coronavirus-prevention measures announced last month.
They went on to request that officials stop rejecting ballots with mismatched signatures and suspend prosecution of those accused of “ballot harvesting” — or illegally handing in a ballot on someone else’s behalf.
Cegavske bluntly rebuffed those requests in a Tuesday statement that accused Democrats of asking her to ignore state law. She said opening additional polling places would create “logistical and staffing challenges” for state elections officials and argued that sending ballots to inactive voters would significantly increase election costs.
In a statement, Cegavske’s office said it had not yet been served with a suit and learned about its existence through the media. Officials declined to comment further on pending litigation.
Nevada’s Democrat-dominated Legislature last year passed a law allowing same-day registration at in-person polling locations.
State elections officials have said they will comply with that statute by allowing at least one in-person polling location in each county. Voters there can register and get help if they have issues with the ballot that was mailed to them, though voters are encouraged to register in advance to avoid crowds at the “extremely limited” in-person polling places.
At least 17 states have taken similar steps to prevent coronavirus’ spread at polling places.
Cegavske says the virus-containment efforts will only apply to the June 9 primary, and not November’s general election.
Nevada voters can request to be on a permanent list to receive a mail-in ballot for all future elections.
In the 2018 election, less than 10% of Nevada voters cast ballots by mail. More than half of voters took advantage of two weeks of in-person early voting.
More information about the primary election changes is available at 775-684-5705 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read a full copy of Nevada Democrats’ complaint below:
James DeHaven is the politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal. He covers campaigns, the Nevada Legislature and everything in between. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.
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