Nevada's law prohibiting payments to election-season canvassers based on the number of people they register to vote was upheld Thursday by the state Supreme Court.
In ruling that the law doesn't violate First Amendment free-speech rights and is not unconstitutionally vague, justices upheld the conviction of a woman hired by the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - ACORN - to help people register to vote.
ACORN hired voter registration canvassers in Las Vegas in 2008, starting them out on hourly wages. To increase their efforts, the organization's field director suggested to Amy Busefink, his supervisor, that they pay incentive bonuses to canvassers when they brought in 21 or more registration forms. Secretary of State Ross Miller's office spent several months investigating the conduct and charged Busefink with violating state law.
After her attempt to get the charges thrown out was rejected, Busefink entered an Alford plea to two county of conspiring to commit the crime of compensating voter registration canvassers based on their productivity. An Alford plea admits the prosecution can prove the charges but denies guilt. She was placed on informal probation, fined $4,000 and required to do at least 100 hours of community service.
A high court panel of Justices Mark Gibbons, Michael Douglas and Ron Parraguirre cited a number of cases from other jurisdictions that concluded restrictions on paying canvassers per signature don't impose a severe enough burden on First Amendment rights to violate the amendment. The justices also concluded that the state has an important regulatory interest in preventing election fraud.
The opinion cites a 1992 case in which Las Vegas police discovered a political party was paying canvassers $2 for every registered voter. There was testimony in that case that the payments led canvassers to submit fraudulent voter registration applications. The state law banning such payments was enacted to prevent that from happening again.