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VICTOR JOECKS: Nevada group offered gift cards for voting — and a state agency promoted it

Updated November 19, 2020 - 9:27 pm

It’s a lot easier to get people to vote when you pay them. Just ask the Nevada Native Vote Project.

The Nevada Native Vote Project organizes and mobilizes “tribal voters through direct advocacy,” according to its Facebook page. Few things are more direct than offering people the chance to win Visa gift cards for voting. But it’s not a widely used strategy. Federal law prohibits offering or making “an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote.”

That didn’t stop the Nevada Native Vote Project. “After voting, voters can enter our raffle, prizes include Visa gift cards and native beadwork,” a post addressed to the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony said. The grand prize was a $500 gift card. There were four $250 gift cards, four $100 gift cards and eight $25 gift cards.

There were also $50 Visa gift cards offered as raffle prizes to the Moapa Band of Paiute, Pyramid Lake Tribal Community and Elko Indian Colony, among others.

“Giveaways that require proof of voting are not” legal, election law expert and UCI School of Law professor Rick Hasen said.

A post from Election Day showed a picture of a ballot return envelope appearing to change hands and two men posing with gas cards. “McDermitt and Owyhee voters dropping off their ballots and picking up their gas cards,” it read. At least two remote locations offered gas cards for voting. That may be acceptable under federal law, according to Hasen, but only if the gas cards are used for transportation to the polls.

After the election, the Nevada Native Vote Project featured the “winners” of its Visa gift card raffles. “Thank you for voting!” the photo illustrations said at the bottom. “Congratulations to all of the first-time voters and veteran voters,” a post announcing the Lovelock raffle winners said.

After I reached out, the group sent a statement responding to a lawsuit recently filed by the Trump campaign. I then asked how offering gift cards in exchange for voting was legal, but I didn’t receive a response by deadline.

The Nevada Indian Commission — a state agency — even promoted this scheme. On its Facebook page, the commission shared at least six posts from the Nevada Native Vote Project offering gift cards via raffle for votes. The Nevada Indian Commission also held its own giveaway. It offered three Native art prizes to voters. Maybe Attorney General Aaron Ford will take a break from downplaying voter fraud to investigate a state agency that appeared to partake in it.

Regardless, U.S. Attorney Nicholas Trutanich needs to investigate this as soon as possible and bring charges where appropriate. It’s doubtful a Biden administration will be interested in investigating election fraud.

If a group was comfortable breaking the law in plain sight, are shrewder groups doing similar things using text messages or word of mouth? Don’t expect the Clark County election officials to find out, because they doesn’t have anyone who investigates voter fraud. They find out about voter fraud when someone reports it.

This gift-card-for-voting scheme is yet another example of why willful ignorance isn’t an election security strategy.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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