Turnout light for Nevada primary races

RENO " Nevada residents trickled to the polls Tuesday to decide a series of lackluster primary contests that generated little campaigning and less voter interest.

Races for three House seats, a post on the state Supreme Court and 25 legislative primaries didn't capture the attention of voters casting ballots in early voting.

Election officials expected total turnout of below 20 percent " and perhaps an all-time record low.

"There are not many high-profile races on the primary ballot this year," said Secretary of State Ross Miller. He estimated about 15 percent of Nevada's nearly 1.3 million eligible voters will end up casting ballots statewide.

Early reports out of Clark and Douglas counties indicated 15 percent might be optimistic while Washoe County officials said they were on target for 20 percent turnout.

Other primary battles involved a rural county prosecutor running for the district court bench despite being issued a drunken driving summons after crashing cars twice in six hours, and 21 candidates who remained on the ballot despite a state Supreme Court ruling that they had been term-limited out of jobs.

Freshman Rep. Dean Heller faced only token opposition in the Republican primary to advance to a rematch with Democrat Jill Derby in the 2nd Congressional District .

In the 3rd District, third-term GOP Rep. Jon Porter was poised to move on to face Democratic challenger Dina Titus, an ex-state senator and college professor who lost to GOP Gov. Jim Gibbons two years ago. Five-term Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley was expected to coast in the 1st District.

Each faced largely unknown primary challengers while Derby had none.

Berkley may face a November rematch against Republican Kenneth Wegner. His six primary challengers included Ron Paul supporter Chris Dyer. Heller's lone primary foe also was a Paul backer " pawn shop owner James Smack of Fallon, who criticized Heller as a "rubber stamp" and a "parrot" for President Bush.

Meanwhile the GOP's most powerful senior state senator tried to fend off a right-wing challenger who lost to Heller by only 421 votes in the 2006 congressional primary. Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, an 81-year-old former Reno prosecutor, faced former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, an anti-tax crusader.

That race was among those offering a glimpse of Republican politics in a Western battleground both party's presidential candidates consider key to winning the White House in November.

Primary election day glitches included misspelled Spanish words on some ballots and complaints of inadequate signage for at least one polling place.

The mistakes on the Spanish-language sample ballots in Washoe County included using "Martis" instead of "Martes" for Tuesday.

Washoe County Registrar of Voters Dan Burk issued an apology on his office's Web site that explained it was a printer's error.

Some voters complained about construction and sparse signage that they said made it difficult to cast ballots at Sparks Middle School.

Esther Morales, 68, said she and her husband drove around the school several times before they spotted a small sign to direct to the polls. County spokeswoman Kathy Carter said more signs were posted later in the day.

In other races, Nye County District Attorney Robert Beckett, who crashed two cars on a desert highway in California in June, and Deputy District Attorney Marla Zlotek were challenging six-term incumbent Judge John Davis, an accomplished mountain climber in the Fifth Judicial District covering rural Esmeralda, Mineral and Nye counties.

Two judges in Clark County continued their re-election bids amid lingering allegations of wrongdoing pending before the state Commission on Judicial Discipline.

District Court Judge Elizabeth Halverson has been accused of creating a hostile work environment, falling asleep on the bench, improperly communicating with jurors and mishandling trials.

Family Court Judge Nicholas Del Vecchio has been accused of sexually abusing a woman when she was a minor, sexually harassing her as an adult, and making racially and sexually disparaging comments to court employees.

In the only state Supreme Court primary in play, all four candidates made six-figure loans to their campaigns " Washoe County Family Court Judge Deborah Schumacher, lawyers Kris Pickering and Nancy Allf, and Don Chairez, a former district court judge in Las Vegas who once ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for Congress.

Chairez's $135,000 loan was the only contribution his campaign reported. Pickering raised $556,229, including $360,000 of her own funds; Schumacher had $317,740, including $150,000 of her own money; and Allf reported $489,387, including $271,000 in personal loans.

They jumped into the nonpartisan race after Justice Bill Maupin announced in January that he wouldn't seek re-election to a third six-year term. The two top vote-getters will advance to the November general election.

Twenty-one other candidates, including Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury and university system regents Thalia Dondero and Howard Rosenberg, remained on the ballot even though the state Supreme Court recently ruled they could no longer serve because of 12-year limits voters placed on terms in 1996.


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