Serious questions surround Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s charge of illegal voting

When President Donald Trump declared 3 million to 5 million illegal immigrants had voted in the 2016 general election, he was widely ridiculed.

One of his critics? Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a fellow Republican.

“There is no evidence of voters illegally casting ballots in the most recent election in Nevada,” Cegavske said in a Jan. 25 statement. “The secretary of state’s office is aware of attempted fraud related to voter registration in Nevada … ”

She concluded: “We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump, but we are open to learning more about the administration’s concerns.”

But by Friday, Cegavske had adopted a different view: She sent a letter to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, saying employees there had offered voter registration materials to people “whom they know to be non-citizens based on their presentation of a green card for identification purposes.”

She ordered the DMV to stop the practice immediately “as we have reason to believe that non-citizens have unlawfully registered to vote in Nevada as a direct result of DMV’s practices.” Even worse, Cegavske added, “we have now confirmed that some non-citizens illegally cast votes in the 2016 general election.”

Where the votes were allegedly cast, how many were allegedly cast and other details are still unknown; Cegavske hasn’t elaborated on her letter, which surprised many in Nevada.

And that’s understandable, given that Cegavske is a signatory to a March memorandum of understanding that establishes a procedure for the DMV to register voters, as called for in the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.

Under that law, citizens who apply for a driver’s license, a state ID card, or a change of address are supposed to be offered a chance to register to vote or to change a voter registration address.

By contrast, non-citizens who apply for a state driver authorization card are not supposed to be offered voter registration materials.

The memorandum, signed by Cegavske and several groups that advocate for voter rights, calls for a liaison from Cegavske’s office to the DMV to iron out problems with the system and to ensure compliance. It calls for Cegavske’s office to develop training materials for DMV employees to use in helping people register.

Amy Rose, the legal director of the ACLU of Nevada, says Cegavske’s letter is troubling, because DMV employees may not reject signed voter registration applications based on suspicions that applicants aren’t citizens. “The DMV doesn’t have the authority to say no,” Rose said.

She said Cegavske’s letter raises concerns about the DMV following the National Voter Registration Act, concerns that led to the signing of the memorandum of understanding in the first place.

“I’m concerned because she [Cegavske] was a part of negotiating” the memorandum of understanding, Rose said.

Cegavske’s allegation has raised the legitimate question of how state officials police voter registration to weed out those ineligible to cast ballots. (The forms contain warnings about improper registrations and are signed under penalty of perjury.)

The secretary of state’s office did not return two calls seeking comment about those safeguards, but Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria said applications made to his office are checked against DMV records and Social Security numbers. Questionable applications result in a letter sent to the potential voter asking for more information. In some cases, voters may be required to sign an affidavit attesting under penalty of perjury to their citizenship. Illegal voting carries penalties that can include prison time.

Gloria said Tuesday he has no reason to suspect voters on his rolls may not be legitimate, but added he’s waiting for more information from Cegavske’s office so he can investigate further.

And he’s not the only one waiting, either.

Contact Steve Sebelius at or 702-387-5276. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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