Heller warns against Nevada balking on election reforms
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Secretary of State Dean Heller said Wednesday that Nevada would face serious repercussions if it fails to enact federally mandated election reforms — but added he’s confident “reasonable minds will prevail.”
The Republican secretary of state responded to threats Tuesday by members of the Assembly Committee on Elections, Procedures and Ethics that they may not pass a bill enacting mandated components of the 2002 Help America Vote Act.
President Bush’s bitter 2000 Florida recount battle with Democrat Al Gore — with its confusing “butterfly ballots,” half-perforated punch ballots and allegations of voter intimidation — led to the federal legislation.
Under the act, each state must replace all punch-card voting systems, establish provisional balloting, build a statewide voter registration list and place at least one disabled-accessible, touch-screen voting machine at each polling place.
The mandate comes with funding, Heller said, and Nevada could receive up to $25 million in federal funds after putting in just $1 million of its own money. He said that would completely cover the costs of implementation.
Heller added Congress has the authority to dictates terms for federal elections, and it would make no sense to have separate voting systems for federal and state elections.
Assembly Elections Chairwoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, and several other panel members said Nevada should consider ignoring the federal mandate to change.
The critics said having Congress dictate how the state runs its elections isn’t proper and oversteps the boundaries of federal rights.
“They have absolutely no constitutional authority to be dipping their toes in our waters like this,” Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, said during the elections committee hearing late Tuesday.
Heller said rejecting the federal plan would be ill-advised.
He said the best-case scenario would be that the federal government would step in and run Nevada’s elections. In a worst-case scenario, he said, the federal government could refuse to seat Nevada’s congressional delegation.
Heller said he spoke with Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, about the committee hearing, and said he’s confident the bill will eventually pass.
“I do, in the end, believe that reasonable minds will prevail in this,” Heller said.
Perkins said he thinks the Assembly will pass some sort of bill bringing Nevada into compliance with HAVA, but said it might be in a form different than that proposed by the secretary of state.
Heller also said that if the Legislature doesn’t act on a bill, the governor could possibly implement the changes by executive order.
“We will pass it one way or another,” Heller said. “We don’t have an option on this.”
Heller said that while Congress debated the Help America Vote Act, he worked closely with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other members of the state’s congressional delegation, and they all supported the bill and considered it well-structured.
He also said he’d consider asking the congressional delegation to put some pressure on the Legislature to pass the measure.
Giunchigliani delayed further consideration of Heller’s proposal, AB527, until next Tuesday’s committee meeting.