Nevada election official says it’s too late to change ballots

CARSON CITY — Secretary of State Ross Miller said Tuesday it is too late to reprogram voting machines with the complete names of political parties as requested by Tea Party of Nevada candidate Scott Ashjian.

Miller admitted that Ashjian, a U.S. Senate candidate, might have "an argument" that state law does not allow abbreviations of political parties on election ballots.

But as the state’s chief election officer, Miller said it is too late to consider the candidate’s arguments because absentee ballots already have been mailed out and returned and there is not enough time to make changes in voting machines. Election Day is Nov. 2.

"Bottom line, it is too late to make changes," Miller said. "The machines have been programmed and tested. Voting starts Saturday."

Ashjian threatened in a letter Monday to sue Miller after discovering the Tea Party of Nevada had been listed as "TPN" on sample ballots in Clark County. He noted election law does not permit abbreviations.

Ashjian said that on his sample ballot, the Democratic Party had been abbreviated as "Dem" and the Republican Party as "Rep," commonly understood abbreviations. For voters to understand which party he represents, Ashjian said the abbreviation should have been "Tea."

But the abbreviation "TPN" was used by the Tea Party of Nevada itself in bylaws it submitted to the secretary of state when it was created on Jan. 27.

The unstated implication of his letter is that some voters will not cast ballots for him if they do not know he is the "Tea Party" candidate.

Neither Ashjian nor his aide, Gene Burns, responded Tuesday to phone calls seeking comment, including the question of whether they intend to go forward with a lawsuit.

Conservative leaders have accused Ashjian of being on the ballot only to siphon votes away from Republican Sharron Angle and help Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid win re-election. The race is neck-and-neck between Reid and Angle, according to recent polls.

The national Tea Party Express has endorsed Angle, not Ashjian. Debbie Landis, a Reno woman who has organized Tea Party events, said Ashjian has not been involved in Tea Party activities in Nevada.

The Patriot Majority, a Washington-based group not affiliated with any candidates, is led by Craig Varoga, a former communications director to Reid. It has been running ads on Reno radio about how Ashjian recently taped Angle talking with him about dropping out of the race, suggesting the meeting was a backroom deal. The ad twice mentions that Ashjian is the "Tea Party guy."

The Center for Public Integrity, a journalism investigative group, said last week that Varoga intends to spend $8 million by Election Day on "ads to help Reid triumph over Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle." The Federal Election Commission website shows the Patriot Majority is funded by union organizations.

"There aren’t many candidates in the history of the United States who succeed in being both a backroom hack and an extremist intent on pushing a dangerous agenda that would harm countless people — but Sharron Angle somehow manages to do both," Varoga said in an e-mail response to a message left on his phone.

He had been asked about the reason for the ad and to respond to the growing speculation that Ashjian’s real motive is to help Reid win.

Ashjian repeatedly has denied he is a Reid plant.

"We understand what Harry Reid represents, and I’m the opposite," Ashjian said in a Review-Journal interview in March. "I’ve never met him, I’ve never talked to him, and I don’t even know him."

Both Reid and Ashjian are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After a court appearance in Carson City in April, Ashjian said he was "100 percent sure" he could beat Reid and the Republican nominee in the November election "by a large margin" because of widespread support among the public for Tea Party ideals of limiting taxes and following the U.S. Constitution.

The complete names of the Tea Party of Nevada and other parties are listed on sample ballots in every county except Clark and Washoe and will be on voting machines too, Miller said.

The decision to abbreviate political parties was made by Larry Lomax, the Clark County voting registrar, and Dan Burks, the Washoe County registrar, according to the secretary of state.

More than 80 percent of the state’s registered voters live in the two counties.

Lomax said his office has used abbreviations for party names since he became registrar in 1998 and at least back to the 1970s.

"No one ever complained before," said Lomax, noting the sample ballots include a notation defining the meaning of the abbreviations.

But election law makes no reference to abbreviating political party names.

It states "Immediately following the name of each candidate for a partisan office must appear the name of his political party, or the word ‘independent,’ as the case may be."

Following the name of candidates for nonpartisan offices, the word nonpartisan "must appear," according to the law.

The law also states the secretary of state "may provide" for the placement of the political party or the words "independent" or "nonpartisan" in cases in which voting by other than paper ballots is used.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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