David C. Henley: Close elections are nothing new for Nevada
Nevada has certainly been making national and international news the past several days.
My wife Ludie and I were glued to the television set last week, following the presidential election when, at 12:27 p.m., a “BREAKING NEWS” headline flashed across the screen stating “Joe Biden Hits Jackpot in Nevada After Pennsylvania Puts Him Over the Top.” The New York Post story added, “Joe Biden has won gold in the Silver State, clinching Nevada shortly after Pennsylvania handed him the presidency with well over the 270 electoral votes needed.”
Confirmations of Biden’s triumph over incumbent President Donald Trump soon followed from the Associated Press, Fox News, CNN, major national newspapers such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, the TV networks and other news outlets. One network aired a map of Nevada that showed the state’s 17 counties together with their names. “Hooray,” I exclaimed, when I saw “Churchill County” in living color!
According to the media that memorable day, Biden defeated Trump in Nevada by approximately 25,000 votes, with Biden receiving 642,604 votes in the state to Trump’s 616,905, or 49.9% for Biden and 47.9% to Trump.
But Trump and millions of his supporters across the country are crying foul over the news that Biden won the election and will become the 46th president of the United States. Those contesting the election’s legitimacy allege the election results were doctored in favor of Biden, and legal actions are being taken in several key battleground states, including Nevada, to nullify the results and force recounts.
Spurred by allegations made by Trump when he campaigned across Nevada before the election that Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak controls millions of votes, that mail-in ballots in Nevada would be illegally accepted without signatures and that Republicans likely wouldn’t be sent mail-in ballots but dogs and dead people would, Trump attorneys in Nevada filed an emergency appeal before the Nevada Supreme Court on election day to order Clark County election officials to stop processing mail ballots. But the entire seven-member court denied the appeal, ruling it failed to demonstrate “a sufficient likelihood of success to merit a stay or injunction” and that the request by Trump’s legal team failed to identify any “mandatory statutory duty” or “manifest abuse of discretion” that would “warrant judicial intervention at this point on Election Day.”
Further appeals by Trump’s Nevada legal team that the election results for president are tainted are still being made, so we will have to wait and see if any of them are honored by state or federal courts. So the election results in Nevada, as well as in the other battleground states, could conceivably be overturned and Biden and the media would have to eat their proclamations that he beat Trump and won the election.
Close elections such as Biden’s 2% win in Nevada are neither new nor novel in the Silver State. In the 2016 election, for example, Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by just 27,000 votes out of more than 1 million votes cast. But we can go back to the 19th century to see several more much closer election results in Nevada.
Of these, the 1878 election result for the State Senate seat in Douglas County appears to be closest. In this race, Henry F. Dangberg of the Independent Party defeated Republican James F. Haines by a mere 2 votes. Haines requested a recount but it was denied. However, a year later Haines had his comeuppance when the Senate, by a 18-6 vote, overruled Dangberg’s victory, tossed him out of the chamber and seated Haines, justifying the action because some of the votes for Dangberg were somehow not “legal.”
Another election “squeaker” occurred in 1898, when Reinhold Sadler of the Silver Party defeated Republican William McMillan for the Nevada governorship by just 22 votes out of approximately 10,000 votes cast. In 1920, Republican E.E. Roberts defeated Democrat Clay Tallman for the state’s sole representative in the U.S. House of Representatives by 69 votes out of approximately 20,000 votes cast. Two years later, Democrat Francis Newlands (for whom Churchill County’s Newlands Project is named) defeated Republican Samuel Platt for the U.S. Senate by 40 votes out of about 22,000 cast.
In further Nevada U.S. Senate races: In 1964, Democrat Howard Canon (for whom the Reno-Tahoe Airport was named) defeated Republican Paul Laxalt (who later would become a Nevada governor and U.S. senator) for a U.S. Senate seat by 48 votes out of about 135,000 cast. A recount indicated that Canon won by 84 votes. Laxalt, who was elected governor in 1966 by defeating Democrat Grant Sawyer by 5,937 votes out of 138,000 cast, won a U.S. Senate seat in 1974, when he beat Democrat Harry Reid (who later would become a U.S. senator and Senate majority leader) by 624 votes out of about 160,000 votes cast. And Reid won his U.S. Senate seat in 1998 when he defeated Republican Congressman John Ensign by 428 votes out of 420,000 cast. Ensign won a Nevada U.S. Senate seat two years later by a wide margin.
And here’s some more useful information on Nevada election history: From statehood in 1864 to 1960, bars and saloons were closed on election day. In 1967, that law was repealed by the Legislature. A 1864 law still in effect banned “traitors” from voting. African-American men (women weren’t allowed to vote in any state until the 19th amendment was passed in 1920) were banned from voting from statehood until the 15th amendment passed Congress in 1870, Mormon men weren’t permitted to vote in Nevada from 1887 to 1888, when the law was repealed by the Legislature. $4 poll taxes were done away with in Nevada in 1910. Native Americans became citizens and were allowed to vote beginning in 1924 by an act of Congress.
Meanwhile, we wait for further news regarding Trump’s appeals to nullify election results in Nevada and the other “battleground states” because of alleged cheating on behalf of the Democrats. The situation is becoming increasingly volatile and nasty, but I believe Biden’s claim to victory will eventually succeed.
David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.