Last year, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto turned Nevada’s recall petition process upside down. The Democrats looked at the Nevada Constitution, along with nearly four decades of election law, and discovered what so many others before them had apparently overlooked.
In following the state constitution, Nevada’s election officials had long required recall organizers to collect signatures totaling at least 25 percent of the number of voters who participated in the election of the official targeted for removal. The standard recognizes that no election has 100 percent turnout, and that citizens who fail to participate in the election of a representative remain taxpaying constituents, free to actively support that candidate’s positions or air grievances on issues that affect them.
The signature threshold makes it appropriately difficult to remove someone from elected office. Very few recall campaigns have resulted in an election that saw the representative ousted. In the Las Vegas Valley, such a political uprising hasn’t happened since 2005, when over-her-head City Councilwoman Janet Moncrief was replaced by Lois Tarkanian.
But in March 2008, Mr. Miller unilaterally ruled that the 25 percent standard had been misapplied since before his birth. Nevada’s chief election officer said that from that moment forth, recall petitioners would have to collect signatures from at least 25 percent of the actual voters who participated in the election of the targeted representative.
Two months later, Ms. Cortez Masto ignored the clear language of the Nevada Constitution — “a number of registered voters not less than twenty-five percent (25%) of the number who actually voted in the state or in the county, district or municipality electing said officer” — and supported Mr. Miller’s epiphany.
The decision puts anyone who does not participate in an election in a different class of citizenship, their ability to petition the government and the people selected to run it severely curtailed.
Elected officials, meanwhile, are insulated from the limited accountability the recall process provides given that Mr. Miller’s new standard would be much more cumbersome to meet.
In response to all this, state Sen. Terry Care of Las Vegas — a Democrat and an attorney — asked the Legislative Counsel Bureau to provide an opinion on Mr. Miller’s strange interpretation of the state constitution. The bureau rejected the restrictive reading of Mr. Miller and Ms. Cortez Masto.
So Sen. Care has introduced Senate Bill 156 to put the state’s recall standards in even plainer English for our attorney general and secretary of state
Current Nevada law directs elections officials to Article 2, Section 9 of the constitution to determine signature requirements. Sen. Care’s bill spells it out in statute as well: “The petition to recall a public officer may be signed by any registered voter of the State or of the county, district, municipality or portion thereof that the public officer represents, regardless of whether the registered voter cast a ballot in the election at which the public officer was elected.”
The Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee took no action on the bill Tuesday. That’s too bad. This bill is a no-brainer.
If it takes legislative action to overturn the ludicrous constitutional reading of Mr. Miller and Ms. Cortez Masto, so be it. Lawmakers should quickly pass Senate Bill 156.