UPDATED 4/17/17 - 3:37 p.m.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said he doesn’t know the number, location or supporting evidence behind alleged illegal “noncitizen” votes that the Nevada Secretary of State said she’s confirmed happened in the 2016 general election.
In an interview with The Nevada Independent on Monday, Sandoval said he first heard of Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s allegations of voter fraud around 6 p.m. Friday. That’s when his chief of staff informed him Cegavske’s office wanted to deliver him a copy of a letter accusing the Department of Motor Vehicles of accepting voter registration materials from people who used green cards as identification.
His office said he didn't actually receive the letter until about 7:30 p.m. Friday, which was after the Las Vegas Review-Journal had posted a story about the allegations.
Sandoval said he didn’t know what evidence Cegavske has that voter fraud happened. But he said he believes the DMV was operating by the book in its acceptance and forwarding of voter registration forms to elections officials.
“They were operating under the policies and guidelines that were adopted pursuant to input, review and approval of the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office,” he said. “I’m going to rely on (DMV Director) Terri Albertson -- they are proceeding in accordance with what has been approved. So I guess the ball is in the Secretary of State’s court.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which warned the DMV last spring that they were not complying with federal law on "motor voter" programs but said the DMV ultimately fixed the matter to their satisfaction, defended the DMV's practice of sending all voter registration forms to elections officials.
"Under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) the DMV cannot make determinations regarding voter eligibility and must transmit all signed voter registration applications it receives to the appropriate State election official," said Amy Rose, legal director of the ACLU of Nevada. "It is then the duty of the state election officials to determine voter eligibility. The NVRA also requires all applications and renewals for driver’s licenses and ID cards to serve as voter registration applications."
Gail Anderson, Cegavske's deputy for Southern Nevada, said she was unavailable to comment Monday. Anderson deflected questions concerning the number of alleged illegal votes the office is investigating and where they occurred.
The only information they are releasing is contained within the letter Cegavske sent to the DMV.
"There's nothing else," Anderson told a reporter at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. "When we have information that can be provided, we certainly would do that." Anderson also declined to comment on the DMV's response letter or confirm whether Cegavske was in Las Vegas today, as Cegavske's Carson City staff indicated.
Sandoval declined to speculate on whether the alleged fraud was broad enough to alter any election outcomes.
“I’m concerned. I just want to find the truth. If there is an issue, we need to examine how it happened and take action from there,” he said. “We’re waiting and watching for what the SOS does next.”
Here's our brief interview with Gail Anderson, Cegavske's deputy for Southern Nevada:
-- Michelle Rindels and Jackie Valley -- video via Jeff Scheid
UPDATED, 4/15/17, Noon:
The Department of Motor Vehicles responded with a sharp letter to the secretary of state's announcement, saying the letter about its voter registration practices "comes as a complete surprise as you and your office have reviewed, contributed to, and approved the processes you are expressing concerns about.”
"The Department electronically transmits voter registration information to your office for dissemination to the appropriate clerk/registrar," the letter from DMV chief Terri Albertson wrote. "In addition, the original signed voter registration applications are provided to the clerk/registrar along with a transmittal sheet that contains a summary of the applications being submitted. As you are aware, our current practice is to place an indicator on the transmittal sheet next to the registration status code of an applicant the Department believes needs further review by the clerk/registrar to determine voter eligibility. This indicator is used when a DMV technician has reason to believe the applicant may not be eligible to vote based on the documents they have provided in order to receive a driver’s license or identification card."
Albertson copied Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has not been heard from on the probe.
Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said she’s launching a voter fraud probe after discovering evidence that “noncitizens” cast ballots in the 2016 election.
Cegavske’s office didn’t immediately answer additional questions about the alleged illegal votes, including how many were cast, where, whether arrests have been made, and why the existing system for verifying voters’ eligibility apparently did not catch unqualified registrations.
“Although we are in the nascent stages of the investigation, we have confirmed there were illegal noncitizen votes cast in the 2016 general election,” Cegavske, a Republican, said in a statement late Friday. “We also have confirmed instances of ineligible voters who did not vote being on the voter rolls. As I have pledged to all Nevadans, I will be vigilant in ensuring the integrity of the election process.”
The revelation, which was first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears in a letter Cegavske sent Friday to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, accusing the agency of accepting voter registration materials from people who present green cards as identification. She directed the DMV to cease the practice immediately.
DMV officials didn’t offer direct comment on Cegavske’s announcement late Friday, but pointed to a press release about their recent efforts to modernize the process of registering to vote at the agency. The Democratic-controlled Legislature sought to vastly expand the practice through automatic voter registration at the DMV; the process was slowed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s veto in March but will go up for voter consideration in 2018.
Clark County’s Joe Gloria, the registrar of voters in Nevada’s most populous county, said he was unaware of any voter fraud probe when reached by a Nevada Independent reporter Friday evening.
“This is the first I’ve heard about it,” he said.
People who are legal permanent residents, or green card holders, can use that card to get a Nevada driver’s license but are not allowed to vote. The Nevada DMV also offers a “driver authorization card,” which allows non-citizens a permit to drive but requires less official documentation than a real driver’s license and can not be used as an official ID, to board an aircraft, or to apply for public benefits.
Cegavske’s office had sought to tamp down on vague pronouncements of mass voter fraud before last year’s election. In February, she told lawmakers she had no proof of illegal votes, but said Nevada had a problem with voter registration fraud that is “a lot bigger than people realize.”
In 2016, two cases of voter registration fraud came to light. A Pahrump woman named Tina Marie Parks was arrested on charges of intimidating voters and perjury for allegedly marking “Republican” or “nonpartisan” on forms when voters wanted to be registered as Democrats. And a Las Vegas man, Renaldo Johnson, was arrested for putting people’s names on a petition without their permission while he was helping the Green Party’s unsuccessful effort to qualify for a place on the Nevada ballot.
The elections chief said her office is trying to tighten up procedures governing the flood of people who work come to work voter registration drives in this swing state. Those changes are in AB45, which has passed out of committee and is working its way through the legislative process.
State and federal laws require Nevada to frequently check its voter rolls for accuracy. While individual voter records are kept by the counties, their information is sent to the state each night and checked against two cross-state matching programs — one called the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) and Interstate Crosscheck.
Those databases use information from the Social Security death index, the U.S. Postal Service’s change of address system and records from other states to ensure people aren’t registered in more than one place.
Cegavske said in February that her office is looking to tap into a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) database called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE), which would help them determine if registrants are U.S. citizens. The status of that potential partnership wasn’t immediately clear on Saturday.
Nevada Independent Editor Jon Ralston contributed to this report.