If it looks like Family Court Judge Lisa Kent is receiving special treatment on the primary election ballot, that's because she is.
For the first time, Clark County election officials are invoking a Nevada law aimed at distinguishing between an incumbent and challenger with the same last name.
Because Kent's four opponents in the Department J race include an attorney named Jamie Kent, the judge's name will appear first on the ballot, rather than in alphabetical order. The word "incumbent" also will appear in parentheses after her name.
"I'm not a fan of this solution," said Larry Lomax, Clark County's registrar of voters.
Neither is Jamie Kent. He and two other candidates in the race unsuccessfully sought an injunction earlier this year to stop election officials from emphasizing Lisa Kent's name on the ballot.
Lomax, a defendant in the case, opposed the request for an injunction but said his personal opinion "is nothing needs to be done when the first name is different."
The statute affecting the Department J race was enacted after Assemblyman David Parks, D-Las Vegas, faced a challenge in 2002 from another David Parks. A judge ordered the removal of the challenger's name from the ballot that year after ruling that he wasn't qualified to run for the seat.
But Lomax said election officials went to the Legislature in 2003 seeking a way to deal with such cases in the future.
"The problem we were trying to solve was first and last names," the registrar said.
Instead, legislators passed a law that applies to races in which two or more candidates "have the same surname or surnames so similar as to be likely to cause confusion."
According to the law, if one of the candidates is the incumbent, that person's name "must be listed first and must be printed in bold type."
If the race has no incumbent, the law states, "the middle names or middle initials, if any, of the candidates must be included in the names of the candidates as printed on the ballot."
Lomax said he realized after the law was passed that Clark County ballots are printed entirely in boldface, eliminating the thicker type as an option for differentiating between candidates.
After Lomax informed Secretary of State Ross Miller about the problem, Miller directed him to add the word "incumbent" in parentheses after Lisa Kent's name.
Candidates in all other races are listed alphabetically, with no distinction for the incumbent.
Jamie Kent, along with candidates Michele "Shell" Mercer and Kenneth Pollock, argued in their District Court case that the Legislature intended the statute to apply only when two candidates with identical names run for the same office.
They also argued that the law is discriminatory and unconstitutional. They said it discriminates not only against the four challengers in the Department J race but against the other incumbent judges who have drawn opponents in their races.
Morrisa Schechtman also is running for the Department J seat but did not take part in the litigation.
In May, District Judge Valerie Adair denied the request for an injunction. She ruled that the statute was enacted to avoid voter confusion and not to favor incumbents.
"In fact, it may work against incumbents in other judicial races without candidates with similar surnames, in that those incumbents are not so designated and the lack of a designation might lead a voter to believe that no incumbent exists in those races," Adair wrote.
According to the order, Miller's decision to have Lisa Kent identified as the incumbent on the ballot, "in light of the fact that both the paper and electronic ballots do not allow for a different font, was a reasonable exercise of his discretion" under the statute.
The plaintiffs did not appeal the ruling. Jamie Kent said he might revisit the issue if both he and Lisa Kent advance to the general election.
Election officials said they probably will address the issue again during the next legislative session.
Lisa Kent was elected as Lisa Brown in 2000, the year her seat was created. She ran again in 2002 for a full six-year term. The judge changed her name after her marriage in June 2006 and has retained the Kent surname since her divorce in October.
She said she believes Jamie Kent chose to run against her because the two have the same last name.
"I think it is creating confusion," the judge said.
Jamie Kent said he chose to challenge Lisa Kent because he thought her department "was the one that need a qualified candidate," not because he thought he would benefit from having the same surname. In fact, he said, he feared voters would associate his name with Lisa Kent's low ratings on judicial performance surveys.
Both Kents are 43. Jamie Kent is running for office for the first time.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135.