Democrats drop bid to block Nevada's June mail-in primary

Elections 2020 Card with Bokeh Background

Elections 2020 Card with Bokeh Background

RENO — Democrats have dropped efforts to block the state's mail-in primary election June 9 after Clark County agreed to provide more in-person polling places in Las Vegas and election officials agreed to other changes intended to protect the rights of elderly and disadvantaged voters.

Lawyers for Nevada's Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee and congressional campaign committee were scheduled to go before a state judge in Carson City on Thursday via telephone in search of an injunction expanding the number of polling places and mandating mailing of ballots to all registered voters.

The primary is scheduled to be conducted almost entirely by mail for the first time in Nevada in an effort to guard against the spread of COVID-19. Early voting begins May 23.

Last week, a federal judge in Reno refused a conservative voting rights group's request to block the primary based on arguments the secretary of state didn't have the authority to change the election rules. They also said mail-in ballots are more vulnerable to fraud.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du disagreed. She cited the unusual circumstances brought on by the pandemic and noted that five states in the U.S. West currently conduct elections entirely by mail — Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii.

Nevada's "interests in protecting the health and safety of Nevada voters and to safeguard the voting franchise in light of the COVID-19 pandemic far outweigh any burden on plaintiff's right to vote," Du ruled.

Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske's plan requires only one in-person polling place be designated in each of Nevada's 17 counties. It also requires ballots to be sent only to voters considered "active" based on their participation in at least one of the last two federal elections. "Inactive" voters would have to specifically request that they be sent an absentee ballot.

The Democrats agreed to withdraw the request for an emergency injunction after Clark County's registrar of voters said he would add two additional in-person polling sites, and send ballots to both active and inactive voters. Clark County is home to about four out of five of Nevada's voters, including 81% of those listed as inactive, lawyers for the Democrats said Tuesday.

Both Clark and Washoe County, the state's second largest including Reno-Sparks, agreed not to enforce provisions the Democrats said would disproportionately infringe on voting rights among the elderly and others living in remote areas.

They feared some would have difficulty meeting requirements regarding the legal certification of signatures and be able to return the ballots by mail without outside assistance in some cases.

"The Clark County Registrar made the right decision in moving to mail ballots to all registered voters — not just those deemed 'active,' expanding the number of in-person polling locations and updating their signature review process," Nevada's Democratic Party, the national committees and the progressive group Priorities USA said in a joint statement Tuesday.

They also cheered new steps making it easier to cure signature problems if ballots are rejected and appoint additional field registrars to receive mail ballots from voters at their homes if necessary.

"Nevada's other county elections departments should follow Clark County's lead to ensure nobody has to choose between their health and their right to vote," the Democrats said.

They said they would continue to press for additional changes expanding early and in-person voting and making voting by mail as accessible as possible in the general election in November, but that they were dropping their legal attempt to force changes in the primary format.

Monica Moazez, spokeswoman for the Nevada attorney general's office representing Cegavske in the case, declined comment Tuesday.

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