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Trump campaign, RNC, Nevada GOP challenge state law on mail ballots

Updated May 3, 2024 - 3:28 pm

The Republican National Committee, Trump campaign and the Nevada GOP filed a lawsuit Friday challenging Nevada’s law that accepts mail ballots up to four days after an election.

Filed in U.S. District Court, the complaint alleges the state’s law violates federal law, undermines election integrity and disproportionately affects Republicans.

“Ballots received days after Election Day should not be counted — the RNC and our partners are suing to secure an honest election, support Nevada voters, and oppose unlawful schemes,” RNC Chairman Michael Whatley said in a statement on Friday.

The lawsuit asks for the federal judge to prohibit elections officials from counting mail ballots for federal office for the November 2024 election that are received after Election Day, or to not count ballots that are not postmarked by Election Day.

Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar and the county clerks and registrars of Nevada’s two most populous counties — Clark and Washoe — are named as defendants.

In a statement, Aguilar said Nevada runs some of the most secure, transparent and accessible elections in the country, and a key component of that accessibility is allowing Nevadans to vote using the method that works best for them, including by mail.

“Our office will not comment on ongoing litigation, but I hope the RNC is putting as much time and energy into educating voters on how to participate in elections as they put into suing the state of Nevada,” Aguilar said in the statement.

The Republicans’ complaint comes about a week after the U.S. Postal Service announced it will move forward with its plan to downsize and relocate its outgoing mail processing operations from Reno to Sacramento. The plan drew concerns from Aguilar and elected officials on both sides of the aisle who worry the change will delay the on-time arrival of mail ballots in Northern Nevada and impact elections.

The background

In 2021, a Democrat-controlled Nevada Legislature approved a law that made the state’s expanded use of vote-by-mail during the pandemic permanent and gave all Nevada voters the option to vote by mail. It also revised the deadline to require a mail ballot that is mailed to the county or city clerk to be received by 5 p.m. on the fourth day following an election as long as it is postmarked on or before Election Day.

The law put in place a system in which Nevada voters automatically receive a ballot in the mail unless they opt out. They can mail in their completed mail ballot or drop it off at one of the many polling locations across the state during early voting and on Election Day.

Since that 2021 law took effect, voting by mail became an increasingly popular way to vote. In the 2024 presidential preference primary, 78 percent of voters participated with a mail ballot. Mail ballots counted for about 50 percent of total ballots cast in the 2022 midterms, and around 28 percent of mail ballots accepted for counting were from Republican voters.

But in a state that has been a hot spot for unfounded claims of election fraud, the rise of voting by mail has fueled such allegations from Republicans, including those who filed the lawsuit Friday who purport Nevada’s law harms election integrity.

The lawsuit

The plaintiffs, who also include a concerned Nevada resident and voter, argue states have broad discretion to decide how to conduct federal elections under the U.S. Constitution, but states’ laws must still comply with the U.S. Constitution and the federal laws under it.

Under the Elections Clause, Congress established a uniform day to elect members of Congress and presidential electors, according to the complaint. By accepting mail ballots up to four days after the election, “Nevada effectively extends Nevada’s federal election past the Election Day established by Congress,” the complaint says.

The plaintiffs argue mail ballots accepted after Election Day are untimely and invalid, which “violates the rights of candidates, campaigns, and voters under federal law.”

They take issue with a specific part of Nevada law that says if a mail ballot is received no later than 5 p.m. on the third day following the election and the postmark date cannot be determined, then the mail ballot must be deemed to have been postmarked on or before Election Day. The plaintiffs claim the U.S. Postal Service does not postmark bulk rate mail, so a significant number of mail ballots will not have a postmark but will be counted anyway under Nevada law, which will dilute the “honest votes.”

Rod Spurgeon, strategic communications specialist for the U.S. Postal Service, said the Postal Service is committed to the secure, timely delivery of the nation’s election mail and employs a robust process to ensure delivery of all election mail.

“In recognition of the importance that the election laws in some states place on postmarks, it has been the long-standing policy of the Postal Service to try to ensure that every return ballot mailed by voters receives a postmark, whether the return ballot is mailed with postage prepaid by election officials or with a stamp affixed by the voter,” Spurgeon said in an email. “A voter can ensure that a postmark is applied to his or her return ballot by visiting a Postal Service retail office and requesting a postmark from a retail associate when dropping off the ballot.”

Plaintiffs also say the Nevada law injures the RNC, Nevada GOP and the Trump campaign by requiring the plaintiffs to divert resources to conduct election activities after Election Day. The three groups have to maintain specific get-out-the-vote operations to encourage voters to return their mail ballots. Staffing those operations diverts resources from in-person Election Day activities, the complaint says.

The complaint also asserts the Republican groups are disproportionately harmed because Democrats tend to vote later due to get-out-the-vote drives that occur shortly before Election Day, resulting in late-arriving mail ballots going more toward Democrats.

Response from Democrats

Hilary Barrett, executive director of the Nevada State Democratic Party, called the lawsuit baseless in a statement Friday. She alleged it’s a tactic “to undermine democracy and disenfranchise thousands of Nevada voters by limiting when ballots can be accepted — even when postmarked by Election Day.”

Republican challenge against mail ballot law by Jessica Hill on Scribd

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

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