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Officials say state Democrats’ request to expand voter access during COVID run afoul of state law
Nevada’s top elections official is pushing back against state Democrats who have threatened to sue over “unconstitutional” limits on who receives a ballot ahead of June’s vote-by-mail primary election.
Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s office on Tuesday issued a searing response to a letter penned by attorneys for the Nevada State Democratic Party, who last week urged Cegavske to “avoid litigation” by sending ballots to all registered Nevada voters, not just those the office considers active voters.
The letter later asks state elections officials to expand the number of “well-organized and hygienic” primary election polling places permitted in each county under strict coronavirus-prevention measures announced by Cegavske last month.
It goes 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.
Deputy Secretary of State Wayne Thorley on Tuesday issued a point-by-point response to those requests.
In short, he said no.
“The Nevada State Democratic Party asks me to ignore laws that were enacted by the Nevada Legislature,” Thorley wrote. “I am asked to disregard long-standing voter integrity provisions found in NRS 293.325 and 293.330, including the restriction on ballot harvesting.
“I am also asked to extend the signature cure deadline despite the hard deadline that exists in NRS 293.333. We are a nation of laws. My job, as defined in NRS 293.124, is to faithfully execute and enforce state election laws as written.”
Nevada Democrats fired back in a Wednesday statement that said imposing severe limits on polling places would provoke an overcrowding “disaster,” particularly in communities of color.
Nevada State Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy also took direct aim at election officials’ willingness to prosecute ballot harvesting, accusing Cegavske — the GOP’s lone statewide officeholder — of politicizing the issue.
“Rather than uphold her duty to ensure every voter has the ability to make their voice heard in this primary, the Secretary is instead turning Nevadans’ constitutional right to vote into a partisan issue by invoking GOP talking points,” McCurdy wrote. “Democrats have beat back these claims, like in Arizona when the Ninth Circuit found that prohibiting individuals to help their neighbors turn in their ballots violates the Voting Rights Act.
“Expanding access to the ballot box has always been Democrats’ fight and we’re prepared to win.”
Former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid sought to pile on in a statement issued just minutes after McCurdy’s.
“There is indisputable evidence that the process proposed by the Nevada Secretary of State will adversely impact communities of color,” Reid wrote. “It is our job as Americans to protect our own right to vote. And when we see efforts to take that right away from people, we have an obligation, regardless of party, to fight back.
“It should not have to become a legal fight to allow people to vote, but it will become a legal fight if the laws and the Constitution are ignored.”
Ballot harvesting back in the limelight
Ballot harvesting became the nation’s highest-profile form of election fraud in 2018, when a Republican political operative was indicted for tampering with ballots collected from voters during a tight congressional race in North Carolina.
There’s little evidence of widespread ballot harvesting malfeasance in Nevada or anywhere else, though President Donald Trump recently thrust the issue back into the limelight with a tweet that claimed the controversial practice is “rampant with fraud.”
Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Richard Walters picked up where Trump left off, telling the Reno Gazette Journal in a statement that Nevada Democrats’ push to suspend ballot harvesting prosecutions puts election integrity, and people’s health, at risk.
“Democrats’ entire strategy is to legalize ballot harvesting nationwide, and this letter proves it,” Walters wrote. “Sending far-left activists door-to-door to collect ballots not only jeopardizes people’s health, it threatens the security of their ballot.
“The last thing our country needs during a time of crisis is to weaken confidence in our elections, but that is exactly what would happen if Democrats get their way.”
He also bashed Marc Elias, one of Nevada Democrats’ attorneys, for requesting additional in-person voting locations in Nevada one week after tweeting that allowing personal contact at Wisconsin polling places was a “national disgrace.”
Officials defend limits on in-person voting
Thorley, Nevada’s top deputy for elections, also highlighted public health among the reasons his office wouldn’t stray from its initial plan for this summer’s all-mail election.
“The decision to designate the 2020 primary election as an all-mail election was not made lightly,” he wrote. “The policies put in place for the primary election are supported by all 17 county election officials and exist to ensure state and local election officials can properly and lawfully administer the election while protecting the right to vote and ensuring the health and safety of voters and election workers during this unprecedented time.”
Thorley said opening additional polling places would create “logistical and staffing challenges” for state elections officials. He said sending ballots to inactive voters would also significantly increase election costs and add to the expected tally of undeliverable ballots.
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 email@example.com.
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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