Nevada judge to decide whether to reopen voter registration
October 15, 2004
LAS VEGAS (AP) – A state judge said she will decide Friday whether to reopen registration for Clark County residents whose voter applications might have been destroyed by a Republican-funded group.
“The issue is that people who registered to vote be allowed to vote,” Clark County District Court Judge Valerie Adair said during an emergency hearing on a Nevada Democratic Party lawsuit to extend the registration deadline, which closed Tuesday.
But the judge said she was concerned about opening “floodgates” to manipulation of the voter rolls on the eve of early voting for the Nov. 2 election. The state allows voters to cast early ballots for 14 days beginning Saturday.
Lawyers for the state Democratic party and county said they favored offering people whose registrations might have been torn up or discarded a few hours on Monday to reregister. Officials believe the number of such voters might be in the dozens.
The county favored the extension, County Counsel Mary-Anne Miller said. But with early voting beginning Saturday, and 58,000 mail ballot requests expected, the last day county Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax’s office could handle late registrations would be Monday, she said.
The lawyers discussed having applicants submit affidavits swearing they signed voter registration forms with representatives of Voters Outreach of America, but that their registration had not been logged by the county.
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The party’s lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses Voters Outreach of America, a private canvassing company hired by the Republican National Committee, of destroying Democratic registration forms collected in the Las Vegas and Reno areas.
Nevada state law requires anyone registering voters to accept and submit forms regardless of a voter’s party affiliation.
The case is based on an affidavit by former Voters Outreach employee Eric Russell, 26, of Las Vegas. He said he was instructed to register only Republicans, and that he saw a supervisor tear up completed registration forms from Democrats.
Nathan Sproul, a former head of the Republican Party in Arizona who subcontracted with the Republican National Committee to register GOP voters with Voters Outreach of America, has denied the allegations. Sproul of Chandler, Ariz., characterized Russell as a disgruntled ex-employee who was fired last month.
The Democratic Party alleges voter intimidation and voter fraud. It seeks an injunction ordering Lomax to reopen the registration period in Clark County, where nearly 700,000 of the record 1.1 million registered voters have signed up to vote Nov. 2.
Russell’s girlfriend and ex-Voters Outreach employee Ashlee Tims, 19, of Las Vegas said Friday she also heard a supervisor order Democratic registration forms to be discarded. Tims said she also was fired.
Officials at the Nevada secretary of state’s office, the state attorney general’s office and the FBI said they were looking into whether state or federal laws were broken.
The registration allegations highlight Nevada’s position as a battleground in the presidential election. The state has 429,327 registered Republicans, 427,217 Democrats and five electoral votes.
The latest polls show President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry separated by just a few percentage points. Bush narrowly carried the state in 2000.