Nevada Supreme Court to hear appeal on special election

Nevadans eager to elect former Rep. Dean Heller's replacement in the vacant 2nd Congressional District might want to take a deep breath.

The Nevada Supreme Court indicated Tuesday that it needs more time to rule on a key election procedure than a planned Sept. 13 election date would allow.

As a result, Nevadans in the district -- which encompasses all of Nevada with the exception of urbanized areas of Clark County -- might not get to vote on Heller's replacement until October or even November.

The replacement would fill out the last year of Heller's unexpired term, thereby getting a leg up on the competition in the 2012 election.

Gov. Brian Sandoval chose Heller to fill the seat of embattled U.S. Sen. John Ensign in April. Ensign resigned just before the Senate Ethics Committee released the results of an investigation into an affair he had with a female aide who was his wife's best friend and into his attempts to cover it up.

The high court will announce the extra time it needs for the special election after hearing from the parties involved. No opposition is expected from Democrats or Republicans. And the secretary of state's office, which is coordinating the special election, raised no immediate objection.

There was little opposition when Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval picked a Republican congressman to replace a GOP senator midterm.

The conflict developed when Secretary of State Ross Miller interpreted state law to mean any person who fancied political office could run for the 2nd District.

Republicans saw Miller's legal reasoning as an attempt to split Republican votes and possibly open the door for a Democrat to win the seat in the traditional GOP stronghold. They wanted each major political party's central committee to pick one person to run in the election.

The Nevada Republican Party filed a lawsuit against Miller in Carson City. District Judge James Todd Russell later sided with the GOP, if for no other reason than to avoid the possibility that hundreds of candidates could enter the race in what Miller described a "ballot royale."

The state Democratic Party -- and Miller in his capacity as secretary of state -- appealed Russell's decision to the high court and asked justices to expedite the hearing .

However, the high court, in papers filed Tuesday, cited the need for a "thoughtful and considered review" to determine how to best fill a rare midterm vacancy. Additional legal briefings on the election date sought by 4 p.m. Monday.

The election can be delayed and still meet the law's requirements. Justices noted that special elections of this nature must be held within 180 days of a vacancy's announcement. Sandoval scheduled the special election within 127 days.

If the Supreme Court takes all the time the law allows, the special election could be held in the first days of November.

Pam DuPre, press secretary for Miller, said attorneys were reviewing the high court's request and any comment would be premature. However, if the special election is postponed perhaps as many as 53 days, other deadlines imposed might have to be revisited.

In the meantime, more than two dozen Nevadans from both major and minor parties had filed declarations of candidacy as of Tuesday afternoon.