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Democrats sue over primary election rules

Updated April 16, 2020 - 5:10 pm

The Nevada Democratic Party and various other Democratic groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Nevada secretary of state’s office, claiming the rules governing the June 9 all-mail primary election violate Nevadans’ voting rights.

The lawsuit comes just days after the party sent a list of demands to Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske. Democrats are asking for more in-person polling places, a relaxation of laws against so-called vote harvesting and for ballots to be sent to all registered voters — not just active voters.

The Democrats claim the state’s plans violate both the state and U.S. constitutions, as well as Nevada state law.

Cegavske said Tuesday the party was demanding she not follow Nevada election law, which she refused to do. She expressed concern over the safety of election officials and the additional costs and logistical issues associated with mailing ballots to all voters, instead of just active voters, and opening additional polling places.

Wayne Thorley, Cegavske’s deputy for elections, said Thursday the office had not yet been served with the lawsuit and learned of its existence from reporters. The office had no comment on the pending litigation.

Cegavske made the move to a mail primary due to increased risk and mitigation efforts regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of her plan includes opening up one in-person polling place in each county.

The Democrats have taken particular issue with this part of the plan, saying that Nevadans do not like to vote by mail, so limiting polling places will lead to long and unsafe lines. The party notes that some 87 percent of the state’s population will be served by two voting centers, and many voters in rural areas would face long drives.

Cegavske said Tuesday the polling limits were deliberate in order to stem the spread of the virus.

Democrats are seeking a court order that would: Force the secretary to mail ballots to all registered voters, increase the number of polling places to reflect geography and population and bar the secretary of state’s and attorney general’s offices from enforcing laws against vote harvesting and ballot rejection laws.

Vote harvesting is the practice of a party worker or volunteer collecting people’s mail ballots and turning them in en masse.

The 65-page lawsuit was filed in the District Court in Clark County and also names the county election officials in Clark, Washoe and Elko counties as defendants. Attorney General Aaron Ford, a prominent leader within the state Democratic party and former state Senate majority leader, is also named as a defendant.

The attorney general’s office could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

The Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic super PAC Priorities USA joined the state party in filing the lawsuit, which also includes several Nevadans as plaintiffs: Daniel Corona, Darin Mains, Brian Melendez and Teresa Melendez.

Many of Nevada’s Democratic leaders, including Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall and former Senate Majority Harry Reid publicly voiced their support for the state party’s demands.

Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit.

State Democratic Party Chairman William McCurdy II accused Cegavske of turning the disagreements between his party and her office into a “partisan issue” by using “GOP talking points.” Cegavske is the lone Republican currently holding statewide office in Nevada.

Contact Rory Appleton at rappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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