FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2016, file photo, Nevada's Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske speaks during a press conference in Las Vegas. Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat and his office are defending Cegavske's plan to conduct Nevada's June 9, 2020, primary election predominantly by mail because of COVID-19. A federal judge in Reno has scheduled a hearing on a lawsuit that claims the plan would deny some Nevadans their constitutional voting rights.
RENO — Nevada's statewide primary is scheduled in June. But what that looks like in a pandemic and how voters cast ballots may be decided in the courts.
A U.S. judge in Reno said Wednesday she expects to decide by
the end of week whether to block current plans to conduct the June 9 primary
predominantly by mail.
The conflict involves lawsuits at the state and federal
level, both major political parties and voters with divergent political views
who argue their constitutional rights will be violated if the primary moves
forward as planned.
Lawyers for Democrats and conservative voting rights activists are challenging the current plan, but for different reasons.
Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said in
announcing plans last month for the mail-in election in response to COVID-19
that she would still allow registered voters to cast ballots in-person during
early voting beginning May 23 and on Election Day. But she's requiring only one
polling place in each of Nevada's 17 counties.
Lawyers for the right-leaning Voters' Rights Initiative are
seeking the federal injunction blocking the existing format. They say it would
"require the state to forgo almost all in-person voting" and
"all but ensure an election replete with ... ballot fraud."
"The plan alters the nature of Nevada's election,
changing it from an in-person election with absentee ballots received by
request to a scheme of mailing mail-in ballots to some, but not all, registered
voters and highly restricted walk-in voting options," according to their
lawsuit filed last week.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du said Wednesday when she
opened a telephonic hearing on the injunction request that current restrictions
on in-court appearances "demonstrate the unusual circumstances of our
She granted an expedited hearing schedule because mail-in
ballots are scheduled to be sent to voters next week. And she told lawyers
Wednesday she wouldn't accept any supplemental filings after the hearing.
Democrats defend the mail-in approach generally. But they
filed suit in state court earlier to block the plan based on concerns there
won't be enough polling places to accommodate in-person voters.
They also argue absentee ballots should be sent to all
registered voters, not just those considered “active” because they participated
in the last two elections. Inactive voters must specifically request absentee
Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat responsible for
representing Nevada in court, filed briefs in federal court this week defending
"Recognizing the unprecedented global pandemic, state
and local officials came together to work within existing statutory to ensure a
fair Nevada primary election while minimizing health risks to its voters,"
Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Zunino wrote on his behalf.
Plaintiffs seeking the U.S. injunction include Terresa
Monroe-Hamilton, a conservative blogger who maintains COVID-19 is "an act
of war by China."
The Democrats' lawyers "vigorously dispute plaintiffs'
contentions that mail voting is either unconstitutional or likely to result in
fraud." But they agreed in briefs filed Monday the plan doesn't go far
enough to ensure everyone's rights. They also challenge the prohibition on
anyone other than a voter's family member assisting with mail-in ballots.
The Democrats contend many voters are switching to
vote-by-mail for the first time, including those with mobility issues or in
remote areas. They cite seniors living in assisted-living facilities and others
under orders to stay at home because of COVID-19.
"Without expansive options to vote by mail, many voters
will be forced to choose between risking their health to vote in person and
participating in the June primary," they wrote.
The Republican National Committee and Nevada GOP have filed
a motion in state court opposing broadening of outside assistance. The GOP said
Democrats are trying to force Cegavske to skirt rules protecting the integrity
of ballots by allowing "political operatives to show up on voters'
doorsteps to collect ballots."
A hearing on the state case is scheduled May 7 in Carson