Legal reasoning called absurd in special election
(AP) – The legal reasoning used by the state’s top election official to determine how candidates will be chosen for a special election to fill Nevada’s vacant U.S. House seat was “unreasonable and absurd,” a state judge said Monday.
The 12-page written order released by Carson District Judge James Russell codifies his verbal bench ruling last week and sets the stage for an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Secretary of State Ross Miller said the Sept. 13 special election would be an open contest, with the 2nd Congressional District seat going to the candidate who gets the most votes.
But he also set different rules for minor political parties and independent candidates, who would have to be designated by their party executive committee or file a petition with signatures of 100 registered voters to get on the ballot.
The state Republican Party sued, arguing major political parties should be able to pick their candidates. The Democratic Party sided with the secretary of state.
Russell agreed with the GOP.
“This is an unreasonable and absurd result; and results in unfair treatment,” he wrote.
Russell also extended until June 30 a deadline for political parties to pick their candidates. The state Republican Central Committee is scheduled to meet June 18 in Sparks.
On Monday, Miller said his office would begin accepting declarations of candidacy Wednesday, with the filing period running through the end of June. Independent and minor party candidates must have submitted their paperwork by May 18.
Nevada has never had a vacant House seat or a special election to fill one. When he announced the rules May 2, Miller said, “Our entire system is based on the concept of being inclusive, one that’s open to all citizens. This interpretation allows open ballot access, freedom for all to run, and ultimately it lets the people decide.
Such a free-for-all election could draw a crowded field and benefit tea party-backed Sharron Angle, a perennial candidate not embraced by the Republican establishment but who has a strong grassroots following. It could also splinter votes in the largely GOP district, giving Democrats a chance to take the seat for the first time if they rallied behind one Democratic candidate.
Russell said while laws governing a special election for the House seat are ambiguous, they must be considered in context with general election statutes.
“When this is done, in this instance, the result is that a major or minor political party designates its candidate to be placed on the special election ballot,” Russell said.
He accused the secretary of state of “picking and choosing” from different portions of the law to support his interpretation, and said the GOP would “suffer irreparable harm,” if Miller’s rules were allowed to stand.
The special election will fill the House seat vacated when Gov. Brian Sandoval appointed Republican Rep. Dean Heller to replace John Ensign in the U.S. Senate.
Besides Angle, state GOP chairman Mark Amodei, a former state senator; state Sen. Greg Brower; and retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold have said they will see the seat on the Republican side.
Three Democrats have said they’ll run: state Treasurer Kate Marshall and former university regents Jill Derby and Nancy Price.