CARSON CITY -- Scott Ashjian admitted in court Wednesday that he was a registered Republican at noon March 2 when he filed his candidacy as the Tea Party of Nevada candidate for U.S. Senate.
Ashjian told District Judge James Todd Russell that he did not change his registration to the new party until about three hours later when he flew home to Las Vegas from Carson City.
Russell did not make an immediate decision on whether Ashjian's name should be permitted to appear on the November general election ballot, saying he wanted to review related cases but would issue a ruling quickly.
His decision could be critical in the Senate race because there is concern by Republicans that Ashjian would draw voters from their nominee and help U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., win the election.
Also, Ashjian is not endorsed by leaders of the national Tea Party movement.
Debbie Landis, a Reno woman who has organized Tea Party protests in Nevada, joined in the lawsuit to strike Ashjian's name from the ballot.
Landis said earlier that the Tea Party is a state of mind rather than an actual political party and that Ashjian has not been active in the movement.
Supporters of Ashjian in January filed more than the required 250 signatures to create the Tea Party of Nevada.
During the 75-minute hearing Wednesday, Russell repeatedly asked Ashjian and his lawyer for details about his party registration and when he filed as a Tea Party of Nevada candidate.
The Independent American Party of Nevada and its U.S. Senate candidate, Tim Fasano, filed a lawsuit that requests the judge strike Ashjian's name from the ballot on the grounds he broke a law that requires candidates to be members of a specific party before filing as a candidate for that party.
"Mr. Ashjian, unfortunately for him, put the cart before the horse," said Joel Hansen, the lawyer for Fasano and the Independent American Party. "You have to be a member of the party you say you are a member of when you run for office."
Hansen maintained Ashjian broke an election law by filing a notarized statement March 2 that he was a Tea Party member when in fact he was a registered Republican.
But Ashjian's lawyer, Allen Lichtenstein, said Ashjian "substantially complied" with the election laws and did not attempt to defraud voters as to his party leanings.
Although Lichtenstein is legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, he is representing Ashjian as a private attorney.
"It would have been helpful if Mr. Ashjian did it in another sequence," Lichtenstein said. "But the integrity of the system did not suffer. Ballots had not been put out.
"No one was misinformed."
Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Matt Griffin said his office looks at the dates when candidates file, not at the specific hours.
After the hearing, Ashjian said he adheres to the Tea Party principles of limited government and strictly following the U.S. Constitution.
He said he does not plan to attend Tea Party rallies today in Las Vegas and Carson City.
He also challenged the thinking that his candidacy would help Reid more than Republicans. Ashjian contended he can win the race.
Ashjian said that when he filed his candidacy, he did not know that state law says a candidate must be a member of a specific party before filing as a candidate for that party.
"I did it the way I thought it should be done," he said of the filing sequence.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.