Updated August 4, 2020 - 3:53 pm
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday charged that Gov. Steve Sisolak and the Democratic Legislature are “using COVID to steal the state” election in November, as the governor signed a bill to provide for universal mail voting and so-called ballot harvesting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump said the Republican Party will sue over the legislation.
Trump’s tweets Sunday and Monday against Assembly Bill 4, passed on party-line votes during a weekend special session in Carson City, put Nevada in the center of the national debate, with Democrats arguing that voting by mail is necessary to save lives during the coronavirus and Republicans countering that it could lead to fraud, delays and confusion about election results.
During a Monday briefing, Trump warned, “You’ll never know who won that state. It will get messed up just like New York,” where two congressional races remain undecided after a mail-in primary six weeks ago.
“In an illegal late night coup, Nevada’s clubhouse Governor made it impossible for Republicans to win the state. Post Office could never handle the Traffic of Mail-In Votes without preparation. Using Covid to steal the state. See you in Court!” Trump tweeted Monday morning.
At a news conference Monday, Sisolak defended the bill.
“I understand that there’s an attempt to suppress voting,” he said. “It’s my job to make sure that we give everybody that wants to vote the opportunity to do so and remain as flexible as possible. That’s what AB4 does. I’m confident it will be well-received.
“It is extremely important to me that our citizens do not have to decide between their health and their right to vote. I think that this bill encompasses that, makes it easier for people to vote, and I’m proud of the bill that came from the Legislature.”
Nevada’s political godfather, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, responded on Twitter: “Donald J. Trump has no integrity and no scruples. That’s why he’s lying about our state leaders and threatening a bogus lawsuit simply because Democrats made it easier for people to vote. His desperate tweets are the clearest sign he knows he’s going to lose in November.”
Reid then suggested that Trump focus on “preventing more deaths from this global pandemic and ensuring our economy recovers.”
“The right to vote is sacred,” responded Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., on Twitter. “Yet, Trump wants to make it as difficult as possible for people to vote in the middle of a pandemic. He votes by mail, but apparently doesn’t want anyone else to.”
In May, Trump warned Nevada that he considered the state’s plan to send ballots to all registered voters for the June 9 primary illegal and warned that he might withhold federal funds from the Silver State.
Nothing came of the threat. A conservative group’s lawsuit against the mail-in primary was twice rejected by U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du, however, who said claims of voter fraud were speculative.
Adam Laxalt, a GOP former state attorney general, had been on Twitter challenging AB4. He said Democratic lawmakers were “ramming through mail-in balloting and ballot harvesting” and “massively altering our election 97 days out” without input from Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.
Cegavske had argued in favor of limiting mail-in ballots to residents who had requested them, a path that would have been less costly and time-consuming than the system under AB4.
On Monday, her office released a statement asserting that it “has not been in contact with anyone in Washington, D.C. about a potential lawsuit in response to the passage of Assembly Bill 4.”
‘Entire DNC wish list’
A senior Trump campaign official told the Review-Journal that provisions in AB4 go far beyond the decision to send ballots to all voters during the primary and represent “the DNC’s entire wish list” for November. And the governor would be able to extend the new rules by keeping the Silver State under emergency status.
AB4 would allow ballots without clear postmarks to be counted if they are received before 5 p.m. on the third day after an election. Also, ballots postmarked on or before the day of the election can be counted if they are received within seven days after election day.
The measure contains no restrictions on ballot “harvesting,” or the collection of ballots from multiple voters and submission of them together. So a political party “can pay people to go door to door to incentivize them financially to find ballots,” the Trump administration official said.
“Guess what they’re going to do,” the official added. “They’re going to find ballots because they’re going to get paid.”
While it is a felony to vote twice, critics charge that people would have three opportunities to vote: by mail, in person at an early voting site and in person at an Election Day polling place. In 2012, however, a woman who tried to vote twice during early voting was immediately caught and later arrested. Multiple votes would also be detected during the canvass following an election.
State Democratic Party Chairman William McCurdy II lauded the governor’s signing of the bill.
“We are lucky in Nevada to have a decisive and thoughtful leader in Governor Sisolak, who has worked tirelessly to put Nevada families first during this pandemic, as well as the leadership of Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, who have put in the work to ensure the most vulnerable Nevadans are protected and our state recovers as quickly as possible,” he said.
On Thursday, Trump tweeted that widespread voting by mail could make November the most fraudulent election in history and asked rhetorically if delaying the election was a possibility. The Wall Street Journal took Trump to task in an editorial that argued if Trump “believes that, he should reconsider his participation and let someone run who isn’t looking for an excuse to blame for defeat.”
A previous version of this story misattributed a quote about AB4. A senior Trump campaign official said the bill represented the Democratic National Committee’s “entire wish list.”