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Four Nevadans are calling on the court to block this new law

Updated July 3, 2023 - 6:12 pm

Four Nevada residents who were previously election observers filed a federal lawsuit last week in an attempt to block legislation that makes it a felony to threaten and intimidate election workers.

In May, Gov. Joe Lombardo signed Senate Bill 406, spearheaded by Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, that makes it a crime for any person to threaten, intimidate, coerce or use any act of violence against an election official with the intent to interfere in an election, and it would be punishable by between one and four years in prison.

The plaintiffs — Clark County residents Alexandrea Slack and Martin Waldman and Washoe County residents Susan Vanness and Robert Beadles — allege in the complaint that the new law imposes “impossible” and “unpredictable” burdens on people who come into contact with election officials during elections.

They fear “the most basic activities” and “minimal expressions” as poll observers could subject them to criminal penalties. If an election observer “vocally objects” to conduct during an election, it could be viewed as intimidation and the observer could face criminal penalties, the lawsuit states.

“This law subjects individuals to criminal prosecution for engaging in lawful activity and we therefore believe it is unconstitutional,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Sigal Chattah, in a statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Chattah, a former 2022 candidate for attorney general, is also the Republican national committeewoman for the Nevada Republican Party.

The new law fails to put exemptions in place for lawful poll observers, as well as election workers, Chattah said. If, for instance, a supervisor confronts a ballot inspector over perceived wrongful conduct, that supervisor could be subject to criminal liability if the inspector “feels intimidated,” the lawsuit alleges.

The plaintiffs allege that the new law violates the First Amendment because it is overly broad and criminalizes speech that an election worker could interpret as harassment or intimidation.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs were previously poll observers, ballot runners or ballot counting room observers. Beadles, a member of the Washoe County Republican Party’s executive committee, also worked as an election intake specialist in 2022, the lawsuit states. Beadles has spread unfounded claims of election fraud and received national attention for targeting the former voting registrar of Washoe County after the 2020 election.

The plaintiffs are asking the U.S. District Court to issue a temporary restraining order to block the enforcement of the law, and they are seeking damages and injunctive relief. Named in the lawsuit as defendants are Lombardo and Aguilar, whose offices declined to comment for this story.

Most of the provisions of the law took effect May 24, according to the Nevada Legislature. Two parts of the bill unrelated to election worker safety that concern monetary contributions will go into effect Oct. 1.

Aguilar had announced plans to address election worker safety even before he won his election in November because of the increasing reports of threats against election workers in both Nevada and across the country.

“The harassment that election workers have had to deal with, just for doing their jobs, is unacceptable,” Aguilar previously said. “We have to make sure that election workers feel safe.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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