RENO — A federal judge has put off until next month any decisions about the legality of the temporary rules for next week's primary election in Nevada. That means any further rulings on the constitutional nature of the mail-in format will not apply until the general election in November.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du granted a request Monday from lawyers for a conservative voting rights group opposing mail-in balloting to extend until July 3 the deadline to argue why she shouldn't dismiss their lawsuit.
Last week, the judge rejected for a second time a request from the Voters' Rights Initiative's to issue an injunction blocking the primary based on concerns about potential voter fraud. She previously ruled Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske had legal authority to conduct the June 9 primary predominantly with mail-in ballots to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Cegavske, a Republican, required each of Nevada's 17 counties to establish at least one polling place for in-person voting. Clark County agreed to provide three in the Las Vegas area after Democrats sued to block the primary based on concerns about voter inequality.
Early voting began May 23. Tens of thousands of voters already have mailed back their ballots.
Early voting at in-person polling places closes Friday. Any mail-in ballot postmarked by June 9 will be counted for up to seven days later.
"If there are close races, the winner of those races will not be known until sometime after Election Day," Deputy Secretary of State Wayne Thorley said last week.
Barring any recounts, election results will become official when county commissions formally certify them within 10 days after June 9.
The lawsuit the voting rights group originally filed to halt the primary still could be used as a vehicle to force changes in rules for November's general election.
Last month, Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat, filed a motion on Cegavske's behalf to dismiss the lawsuit for good — a move backed by Democrats and Clark and Washoe counties.
Tuesday was the deadline the judge had set for the Voters' Rights' Initiative to respond to the motions to dismiss.
But she agreed Monday that even though she already ruled the primary can proceed, it was unreasonable to demand the opponents to comply with the existing deadline regarding final pleadings on the overall case.
"It is one thing to deny a preliminary injunction, quite another to dismiss a whole case with prejudice as requested," Du wrote. "Given this circumstance, plaintiffs' counsel should be given the adequate time they require and request to prepare fully developed arguments in defense of their case."
Nevada Democrats earlier sued in state court to block the primary based on concerns disadvantaged voters including the elderly would be treated unfairly. But they agreed to put their concerns on hold until the general election after Clark County agreed to expand the number of polling places and send mail-in ballots to all registered voters, not just those considered active.
The state and local GOP asked a state judge Monday to force the Clark County Commission to release any records related to the county's decision to open more in-person polling places and mail ballots to inactive voters. They contend the commissioners should have held a public meeting to discuss the decision.