Federal, state election officials stymie rural Lander County commissioners' proposed 2020 election audit

State election officials and the Department of Justice intervened last week to thwart an attempt by Lander County commissioners to audit the county’s electronic voting machines, which hold physical voting records from the 2020 general election. The county’s election official is required under federal law to retain and preserve those records for 22 months after the election.

At the same time, county commissioners are also considering converting to entirely paper elections — largely viewed as more time-consuming and error-prone — by restricting use of all electronic machines in the election process.

In August — more than nine months after the 2020 general election — Lander County Manager Bert Ramos requested to the county clerk (at the direction of the county commission) that all of the county’s 26 electronic voting machines be transferred from the clerk’s office into the custody of the county manager’s office.

In an interview with The Nevada Independent, Lander County Clerk Sadie Sullivan confirmed that the commissioners intended to conduct a post-election audit of the machines in order to determine whether they had been tampered with or if they had been connected to the internet (the machines run on a closed system and are certified by the federal government to not rely on internet connectivity). Sullivan also said the county hired a legal team to examine the machines.

The county manager did not reply to multiple messages asking for comment from The Nevada Independent, and four of the five county commissioners did not reply to emails seeking comment.

The proposed audit and move to all-paper elections were enough to draw the attention of state and federal election officials — especially amid rampant and unfounded accusations that the 2020 election was neither valid nor secure. Earlier this year, Republican state senators in Arizona ordered an audit of the election results in Arizona’s largest county, a decision applauded by the Nevada Republican Party. The private company conducting the audit has yet to release the results.

Following the request, the Department of Justice and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske each sent letters to Sullivan, who oversees the county’s elections, outlining the federal constraints on post-election audits and stating that the machines should not be transferred. A spokesman for Attorney General Aaron Ford said the office is "closely monitoring the situation unfolding in Lander County."

“As the voting records currently reside in the voting machines, and the election was not contested, those voting machines are not to be transferred to any other organization or entity in any situation, except as provided by law,” Cegavske wrote.

The Department of Justice letter also warns that transferring the ballots to someone other than an election official could pose a security risk.

“Where elections records are no longer under the control of elections officials, this can lead to a significant risk of the records being lost, stolen, altered, compromised, or destroyed,” the guidance from the department states. “This risk is exacerbated if the election records are given to private actors who have neither experience nor expertise in handling such records.”

The guidance notes that “in a number of jurisdictions around the United States, an unusual second round of examinations have been conducted or proposed,” such as the post-election audit occurring in Arizona.

Cegavske has continually said that her office has seen no evidence of “wide-spread fraud” in Nevada’s 2020 election, including after reviewing the Nevada Republican Party’s alleged evidence of massive voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Sullivan said that she’s heard discussions of other Nevada counties looking to follow Lander County’s lead.

“That's kind of where all the clerks are holding their breath and hoping that they don't have to go through what we've been going through,” Sullivan said. “We've all just wanted it to be done, you know, legally.”

The Department of Justice letter sent on Aug. 25 to Sullivan, all five county commissioners and Cegavske contains a set of guidelines on how federal laws constrain post-election audits. The guidance outlines how the Civil Rights Act of 1960 requires state and local election officials, such as Sullivan, to retain and preserve all voting records for 22 months after any general, special or primary election. That requirement raises issues when records are transferred to other officials not responsible for elections even within the same county, such as a county manager.

“The Department interprets the Civil Rights Act to require that covered elections records ‘be retained either physically by election officials themselves, or under their direct administrative supervision,’” the guidance states.

The guidance also states that “there are federal criminal penalties attached to willful failures to comply with the retention and preservation requirements of the Civil Rights Act.”

In his request to transfer the machines, Ramos, the county manager, cited a Nevada statute that states that a board of county commissioners has the ability to take custody of mechanical voting systems or mechanical recording devices when they are not in use for an election.

But at an Aug. 26 meeting of the county commissioners, Ramos said that more work was needed to figure out who should possess the voting machines.

“If there is another NRS, and there is something that disputes this, we need to continue up this chain until we find the proper custody,” Ramos said. “I don't want there to be this outside perception of us marching in, and we're gonna take this.”

Lander County District Attorney Theodore Herrera also said during the meeting that the commissioners and county manager did not try to “seize” any voting machines.

Cegavske’s letter points to a different Nevada statute that states ballots are only to be inspected in the case of a contested election, and there are currently no 2020 elections involving Lander County votes being contested. Contested elections are formal legal proceedings that require formal grounds for contest, such as evidence of illegal votes or malfeasance by the election board. Suspicions of fraud are not proper grounds for a contest.

Lander County, which includes Battle Mountain, is located in central Nevada and is home to fewer than 6,000 people. In the 2020 election, nearly 80 percent (2,198 votes) of the 2,765 votes cast in the presidential race were for Donald Trump, and all five of the county’s commissioners are Republican.

Earlier this year, the county hosted a “patriotic social gathering,” featuring Joey Gilbert — a Reno attorney and a Republican candidate for governor, who has said he believes Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election and who attended the Jan. 6 rally at the Capitol. The commissioners and several attendees also discussed Gilbert at length during the Aug. 26 meeting, after the county manager confirmed the county has a $50,000 contract with Gilbert and two other lawyers. However, Ramos during the meeting repeatedly declined to comment on the purpose of the contract, saying the county has attorney-client privilege.

Sullivan said she is unaware whether the legal team with Gilbert is the same one the county hired in connection with the proposed audit of the election machines.

Paper elections

During their Aug. 26 meeting, the Lander County commissioners considered converting the county’s elections from electronic voting machines to running entirely on paper, but the item was tabled when the county’s clerk, who oversees the local elections, said that the change would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

“They have to provide electronic device[s] for them to be able to vote, period. There [are] no ifs, ands or buts. We have to follow those federal laws,” Sullivan said during the meeting.

The ADA states that jurisdictions conducting elections for federal offices, such as president, must provide voting systems that are accessible to citizens with disabilities at each polling location and that states can satisfy this requirement through use of a “direct recording electronic voting system or other voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities.”

Though the item to discuss the move away from electronic systems identified the change as one strictly from electronic voting machines to paper ballots, Sullivan said during the meeting that the conversion would involve the removal of all electronic devices from the election process.

“They would like it to also not just be paper ballot voting, we would be … counting, hand counting it,” Sullivan said. “It wouldn't be going through any mechanical device.”

Lander County — and all other Nevada jurisdictions, except Carson City — use Dominion Voting Systems, which are certified by the federal government to not rely on internet connectivity and use paper records. The mechanical systems record votes on paper inside of the machines to ensure there is a paper trail after elections in case an audit is needed, and the voting records are also contained on a hard drive within the machine. If Lander County transitions to all paper elections, votes would no longer be recorded or counted by such mechanical devices.

Sullivan raised questions about how the process of tallying votes by hand would unfold.

“How in the world … are we going to do the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, slash, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, slash, like, that's not going to work,” Sullivan told The Nevada Independent. “So, what type of process or procedures … would be beneficial or, you know that there's not a human error?”

The secretary of state’s website describes a “voting system” as the equipment used to create ballots, cast and count votes and display election results. That system includes the machines Ramos requested to transfer into the custody of his office.

“Nevada's voting system is a ‘standalone system’ that is not connected to a network, the Internet, and [does] not have wireless connection capabilities,” the site states. “Before any component can be used in Nevada's voting system, it must first go through a series of tests and audits. Additionally, each component maintains a chain of custody with tamper evident security seals and access limited to authorized personnel.”

Registered voters in Nevada have the right to “a uniform, statewide standard for counting and recounting all votes accurately,” according to Article 2 Section 1A of the Nevada Constitution.

Sullivan also said that the secretary of state’s office requested an item a week before the meeting to discuss voter outreach with the county commissioners. She noted that the intent of the secretary of state’s outreach campaign is to ensure elected officials across the state are provided with “clear, factual and non-partisan information” about the state’s election systems.

“We need to educate everyone on what needs to be followed legally,” Sullivan said at the meeting. “Once educated, then there's a process that … you could put this on the ballot and let the voters vote to see if they want to do all paper.”

The commissioners agreed to table the item as soon as it came up for discussion during the meeting, but Commissioner Patsy Waits wrote in an email that she expects the item to be on the agenda again at a future meeting.

The commissioners next meet on Sept. 9, and Sullivan said it's her understanding that the topic of paper ballots will come up at that meeting.

Non-major party voters now make up plurality of registered Nevada voters for first time in state history

For what appears the first time in Nevada history, non-major party voters have surpassed Democratic and Republican voters. 

According to numbers released on Wednesday by Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s office, of the 1.8 million active registered voters in Nevada, non-major party voters — including those registered as nonpartisan as well as with smaller political parties —  now make up roughly 34.8 percent, or more than 651,000 individual voters.

Those totals overtake registration numbers for both major political parties — 34.78 percent are Democrats and 30.4 percent are Republicans.  

Voters listed under non-major parties made up the majority in nearly every age group tracked by the secretary of state.  

The secretary of state’s office has previously credited the increase to the DMV’s automatic registration system, which took effect in January 2020. Voters who do not select a party affiliation when updating information are automatically registered as nonpartisan, unless they opt out. 

Overall, there was an increase of 14,739 active registered voters, or 0.79 percent, in August compared with July. 

Despite the rise of voters not affiliated with either major political party, Nevada still operates under a closed primary system — meaning that only voters registered with a certain political party can cast votes in primary races.

Prior to 1950, Nevada did not break down the total number of registered voters for each party. According to the secretary of state's office, that year, Nevada had 83,950 registered voters: 53,050 Democrats, 26,601 Republicans, and 4,299 listed as “Miscellaneous.” 

Clark County Sheriff Lombardo announces run for governor as Republican; says he’ll veto new taxes, take ‘law and order’ tack

Citing his law enforcement credentials and a need to end one-party rule in state government, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo on Monday officially launched his gubernatorial campaign with promises to veto tax increases and roll back many of the policies instituted under Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative Democrats.

Lombardo, 58, officially announced his campaign for governor at a speech at Rancho High School in Las Vegas — where he graduated from in 1980 — and promised that if elected governor, he would serve as a check on legislative Democrats on issues from taxes to elections and education.

“I have been elected twice as a conservative in our state's bluest county. I have never compromised on principles to get elected, and won’t do so now,” said Lombardo, whose previous sheriff campaigns were in nonpartisan races. “Today, I'm standing here to announce my candidacy for governor, because if we don't put an end to the single-party rule eroding our state of the values, laws and opportunities to make Nevada great, we won't have a lot left to fight for.”

Much of Lombardo’s speech on Monday previewed his coming campaign messaging — including calling Sisolak the “most partisan governor in Nevada history” and saying Sisolak has copied the “worst policies of some of the most liberal governors in the country.” Lombardo also promised to block any effort to teach critical race theory in public schools, to back efforts requiring identification to vote and rolling back several Democrat-backed election changes including ballot collection and expanded mail voting.

Lombardo, who plans to embark on a statewide campaign launch tour this week, joins what may become a crowded Republican primary to take on incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in the 2022 midterms. 

Other announced candidates include North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, a recent convert to the Republican Party, and Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, who argues that Trump actually won the last election. Rep. Mark Amodei and former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller are also weighing potential bids. Former Lieutenant Governor Mark Hutchison, once considered a potential candidate, has endorsed Lombardo.

Lombardo, who is in his second term as Clark County sheriff, hinted that one of his major campaign themes will be his law enforcement experience. He said that “police reform is needed” but that legislators were moving too fast and creating an “environment where the police are handcuffed.”

“What we currently have is ... a sense up in Carson City that we're more concerned with felons’ rights, lessening penalties associated with crime and handcuffing the police,” he told reporters after the event. “That's a paradigm, or that's a program that just doesn't breed success into the future. We have to change that.”

After his Las Vegas kickoff, Lombardo headed to a Reno wine bar in the evening, holding a meet-and-greet at the Napa-Sonoma restaurant. He pitched his candidacy to the roughly 40 people in attendance, mirroring his rhetoric in Las Vegas, and took questions from attendees on elections, guns, education and more.

Former educator Sandy Horning, 77, said she appreciated Lombardo’s background in law enforcement and had a strong grasp on improving schooling across the state. 

“He knows what’s going on in the streets … he’s very impressive with education,” the Reno resident said. “I think he hit all the high spots.”

Carson City high schooler Jessica Gonzalez, 16, said she liked Lombardo’s speech but sought more detail on what his campaign hopes to achieve. 

“I wanted him to go more in depth on how he’s going to defend our rights and how he’s going to explain to the younger people how he is going to reach them,” she said.

A cadre of Democrat-aligned groups including the Democratic Governors Association and Nevada Democratic Victory issued statements on Monday panning Lombardo’s announcement. DGA Executive Director Noam Lee accused him of walking “every partisan ideological line as he’s pretended to represent the constituents he promised to serve and protect while trying to avoid estranging the Republican base he needs for his pending political career.”

Asked by reporters on Monday if he would seek the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, Lombardo said “seek” is an “arbitrary word” but would accept the former president’s endorsement if offered.

“If I receive it, I'll embrace it. Sure,” he said. “You know, anybody that's willing to endorse me and what I believe in, and the direction I want to go in, I'm not going to turn them away.”

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo announces his candidacy to run for Nevada governor during a news conference in Las Vegas on Monday, June 28, 2021. Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Taxes

In addition to pledging to veto any new taxes, Lombardo said he would oppose any efforts to introduce a state income tax, raise property taxes or any other efforts to “advance public policy that would make Bernie Sanders blush.”

Asked whether he would seek to repeal or lower any existing state taxes, Lombardo said that would be a “matter of evaluation as we move forward” and promised to evaluate all existing tax sources. He said the state needed to develop a “tax environment” to attract other industries outside the casino industry to help to diversify the state’s economy.

“You have to be living in a cave not to see that the casino, the mother milk of our economy, will not continue to support us in perpetuity into the future,” he said.

Elections

In his remarks, Lombardo pledged to “undo the reckless partisan policies out of Carson City, and replace them with election law that is transparent, honest and fair.” 

He promised to support requiring some form of identification to vote, eliminate ballot collection or “ballot harvesting” where non-familial individuals are allowed to turn in mail ballots, and to repeal the “new practice of mailing ballots to people who did not request them.”

That’s a reference to AB321, a bill permanently expanding and enshrining expanded mail voting used in the 2020 election that passed on party lines in the 2021 legislative session. The bill was signed into law by Sisolak earlier this month, making Nevada the sixth state to adopt a largely all-mail voting system.

Lombardo also said he would support a bipartisan “election integrity commission” to oversee elections and “guarantee fairness,” and the creation of a non-partisan or bipartisan redistricting commission to draw new boundary lines for congressional and legislative districts.

Asked by reporters if he believed that the 2020 election in Nevada was accurate, Lombardo said he wasn’t “privy” to the data but believed the current electoral system “makes it easy for people to commit fraud.”

“Your question is, ‘Do I think there was fraud in everything?’ I'm not even going to give you an answer on that,” he said. “My concern is moving forward and how we can better make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

The Trump campaign and Nevada Republican Party filed lawsuits and repeatedly made claims of fraud in the weeks and months following the state’s 2020 election. All of the lawsuits failed to make headway in state and federal courts, and Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s office released two reports finding no evidence of “wide-spread fraud” in the 2020 election.

Immigration 

Among the challenges Lombardo will face in a Republican primary is defending himself over his 2019 decision to withdraw from the 287(g) collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. His decision came after a lawsuit from the ACLU and a subsequent court ruling in California that determined “detainers” — holding people in local custody for extra time to allow ICE to detain them — constituted a new arrest and violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against warrantless arrests.

Immigrant advocates, who argue that local police should stay out of immigration enforcement so immigrants can report crime to police without fear of detainment or deportation during the interaction, have said that Metro continues less-formal collaborations with ICE absent the title. Lombardo said that after withdrawing from the program, Metro “dedicated more internal resources to … identifying and deporting violent criminals.” 

“There's been a lot of rhetoric out there that I have created a sanctuary jurisdiction. That is absolutely not true,” Lombardo said. “What we did is adjust, moved resources and addressed the problem to move forward, versus backing up and say, ‘We raised our hands and gave up.’” 

Guns

Lombardo has also struck a more moderate tone on firearm issues, telling the Nevada Firearms Coalition during a question-and-answer panel last week that he supports universal background checks on firearm purchases, opposed “constitutional carry” and tepid support for limits on high capacity magazines.

“I'm a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” he said. “This isn't rhetoric. I've carried a gun every day for more than 30 years in the Army as a cop and as your sheriff. I will always support the rights of law-abiding citizens to responsibly own and carry guns.”

Policing and criminal justice reforms

Lombardo took aim at Democratic state leaders for being “more concerned with felons rights, lessening penalties associated with crime and handcuffing the police,” and said he would distinguish himself from his Republican primary opponents by taking the “law and order lane.”

“Yes, police reform is needed ... I appreciate that and we have looked at that, but it's adapting too fast,” he said. “We have created an environment where the police are handcuffed and have an inability to do their job.”

Lawmakers in 2019 passed a comprehensive bill aimed at reducing penalties for certain crimes and ultimately reducing the prison population. The goal is to use the hundreds of millions of dollars in anticipated savings for “reinvestment” activities, such as better preparing inmates for reentering the community.

In 2021, lawmakers passed a bill to decriminalize low-level traffic offenses on near-unanimous votes and decriminalized jaywalking unanimously, making it a civil infraction without the possibility of arrest. On policing, they passed a bill requiring ample warning to protesters before deploying tear gas, calling for data collection on the demographics of people stopped for traffic violations and requiring police maintain an “early warning system” for “bias indicators or other problematic behavior” among officers. 

Progressives have characterized the policing reforms as largely just codifying Metro’s existing policies and not going far enough, while police agencies and certain police unions have framed them as demoralizing for officers and part of an anti-police narrative.

Lombardo also addressed interactions between police and protesters — an issue that came up in the summer of 2020 amid frequent racial justice demonstrations.

“While Portland, Seattle in Baltimore gave into rioters, looters and vandals, we instituted a zero tolerance policy for violence,” Lombardo said. “Let me be clear, I will always stand up for the rights of anyone to peacefully protest. But if you intend to bring harm to our people, our communities, or those visiting in our community, you will face the full force of the law.”

At least six people face charges for graffiti, breaking windows and other property damage to a federal courthouse at one of the protests in Las Vegas last summer. Las Vegas police say they handled 318 protests last year, and updated their police and protest response protocols that year, including only deploying pepper spray if approved by a supervisor.

Death penalty

Lombardo expressed support for the continued use of the death penalty as a way to curb crime, as the Clark County district attorney's office is currently pushing for the execution of Zane Floyd, who was convicted of killing four people inside a Las Vegas grocery store two decades ago. Floyd would be the first execution in the state since 2006.

“I believe that there's a need for it,” Lombardo said. “I believe that it's a natural deterrent in the mindset of a criminal, and it's a solution for individuals that have committed egregious crimes against society.”

Lawmakers made the most significant progress to date on an effort to repeal the death penalty during the 2021 session, as members of the Assembly voted 26-16 along party lines to pass a bill that would abolish the penalty. However, the measure was spiked by the governor and Democratic leaders in the Senate, after Sisolak said that the penalty was warranted in extreme circumstances.

Education

Lombardo criticized Sisolak on education policy, saying the Democratic governor has failed to provide a plan to reduce class size and opposes school choice, although the sheriff offered only broad-strokes statements about his own plans for K-12 and higher education.

On his website, Lombardo says he supports school choice and wants to expand Opportunity Scholarships, a tax credit-funded program that gives lower-income students scholarships to attend private K-12 schools. Democrats backed legislation in 2021 to preserve funding for the program as part of a compromise to raise taxes on the mining industry, after previously barring new entrants to the program.

Lombardo also nodded to building out workforce development programs.

“We must bring back and focus on trades so Nevada can attract good paying manufacturing jobs, and we must do a better job of keeping our best and brightest right here in Nevada,” Lombardo said.

He also invoked a topic that in recent months has exploded in popularity on conservative media outlets such as Fox News and has spurred states to limit how teachers approach issues such as racism and sexism — critical race theory. State officials have said the decades-old academic study area of critical race theory is not included in state academic standards, although concepts such as social justice and diversity are.

“As governor, I will block any time to force critical race theory on our public school children,” Lombardo said. “We can teach our children to respect each other, and treat everyone with dignity.”

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo announces his candidacy to run for Nevada governor during a news conference in Las Vegas on Monday, June 28, 2021. Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Background

Lombardo, the son of an Air Force Veteran, was born in Japan before moving to Las Vegas in 1976 and graduating from Rancho High School in 1980. Hired by Metro in 1988 after serving in the Army and National Guard from 1980 to 1986, Lombardo steadily rose through the ranks of the state’s largest police force before being hired as assistant sheriff in 2011.

After nearly 30 years at Metro, Lombardo opted to run for Clark County sheriff in 2014. Described as a “policy wonk” by the Las Vegas Sun, Lombardo won endorsements from multiple former sheriffs including Doug Gillespie, Bill Young and Ralph Lamb, and ultimately won the nonpartisan race on a narrow 51 to 49 percent split over Retired Metro Captain Larry Burns — who was endorsed by the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents rank-and-file Metro officers.

In his first term, Lombardo took steps to decentralize operations for detectives and to re-open shuttered substations closed because of budget cuts.

Lombardo also attracted international attention and notoriety as the face of law enforcement response to the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, which left 60 people dead and nearly 550 people injured. For weeks, Lombardo oversaw the investigation and provided information to the public and news media on details of the mass shooting, though his office fought efforts by the Las Vegas Review-Journal to release public records related to the event.

Lombardo won re-election to a second term in 2018, winning the nonpartisan race outright with more than 73 percent of the vote. His first campaign ad included appearances by former Gov. Brian Sandoval, and prominent state Democrats including former state Sen. Yvanna Cancela and Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick.

Sisolak rejects four bills including legislative ethics commissions and housing discrimination changes

Gov. Steve Sisolak said late Friday he vetoed four bills passed during the recently concluded Legislature, including measures that would have created legislative ethics commissions, amended Nevada’s housing discrimination laws, revised the state’s tourism improvement districts and established a dental oversight committee.

He wrote four letters to Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske informing her of his decision to veto the bills.

The bills will be returned to their house of origin in the 2023 Legislature where lawmakers could override any of the vetoes by a two-thirds vote.

The bills Sisolak rejected were:

Assembly Bill 65, which passed by split votes in both the Assembly and Senate, made changes to provisions overseeing ethics in government; however, an amendment that was adopted would have created new legislative ethics commissions for each house. That amendment, Sisolak said, changed his view of the bill.

“I want to be very clear that I support the majority of the sections of this bill,” the governor said in the letter. However, the amendment converted the bill “from a mostly housekeeping measure into a significant policy change.”

The separate commissions that would have investigated and adjudicated complaints against lawmakers and staffers weren’t needed, Sisolak surmised. He said the Nevada Ethics Commission already administers those matters.

“Having a single body handle these issues ensures uniformity and fairness,” Sisolak said. He noted that separate legislative ethics commissions were abolished in 1985 and consolidated into the current Nevada Ethics Commission structure.

Senate Bill 254, which passed by split votes in both the Assembly and Senate, would have amended the state’s housing discrimination laws to reflect federal regulations. The change would have allowed the Nevada Equal Rights Commission to investigate and enforce fair housing rights under federal law. The bill also limited the use of criminal background checks and criminal history as a reason for a landlord to refuse an applicant.

Sisolak said the changes were “good intentioned,” but could ultimately deprive Nevada residents of “superior, cost-free fair house enforcement” available through federal government agencies. He said the bill also imposed restrictions on a landlord’s ability to choose who rents their property. 

“Although I understand the noble purposes behind SB254, the bill is drafted in such a way that it could impose substantial liability on individual landlords and yet not achieve one of its major goals,” Sisolak said.

Assembly Bill 368, which was unanimously passed in both houses, would have revised how projects would be financed within a tourism improvement district. The bill required additional reporting on taxes collected from businesses.

Sisolak said the bill “is contrary to the goals of restarting our economy, improving our infrastructure, and creating jobs.” The governor said he didn’t want to remove “any of the tools local governments can use to encourage and generate economic development.”

Senate Bill 391, which was unanimously approved in the Senate but passed by a split vote in the Assembly, would have established a committee to work with the State Dental Officer governing teledentistry for advising dentists administering medical care during an emergency.

The bill also would have exempted the committee from adhering to Nevada’s Open Meeting Law when there was an emergency or disaster, which Sisolak “strongly” opposed.

“I support the provisions of the bill that would allow for use of teledentistry to bring dental care to more Nevadans, especially in the rural areas,” Sisolak said. “Unfortunately, however, I cannot support this bill because of the provisions that create a new committee governing the practice of dentistry during an emergency.”

Sisolak celebrates bills that expand voting access during ceremonial signing

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday held a ceremonial signing of a handful of bills designed to make casting ballots easier in Nevada, marking a deviation from other states where lawmakers have passed more restrictive voting laws.

The bill-signing ceremony at the East Las Vegas Community Center kicked off the last day for the governor to pen his name on bills passed during the 81st Legislature. The five bills, a couple of which he had already signed, are all election-related:

  • AB121 allows people with disabilities to vote using an electronic system created for uniformed military members and other voters living overseas.
  • AB321 permanently expands mail-in voting while letting voters opt out of receiving a mail ballot, and it also gives Indian reservations or colonies more time to request the establishment of a polling place within its boundaries.
  • AB422 implements a top-down voter registration system, moving away from the existing setup that involves 17 county clerks maintaining their own systems and transmitting voter registration information to the secretary of state’s office.
  • AB432 expands automatic voter registration to other state or tribal agencies, such as those designated by the Department of Health and Human Services that receive Medicaid applications and the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange. 
  • AB126 moves the state to a presidential primary system, ending the use of the caucus.

Sisolak noted that lawmakers in other states have introduced 389 bills that would restrict voting rights, and 20 have been signed into law. He called it an “assault on one of the key tenets of our democracy — the right to vote.”

“But today, in the great state of Nevada, we are so proud that we are sending a strong message that the Silver State is not only bucking the national trend of infringing on voter rights — rather, we’re doing everything we can to expand access to the poll while ensuring our elections are secure and fair,” Sisolak added.

The bill-signings come roughly seven months after a contentious election season, during which Nevada’s Republican secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, received an avalanche of threats and harassment after unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud following former President Donald Trump’s loss. Because of the pandemic, Nevada lawmakers expanded mail-in voting for the 2020 presidential election.

Gov. Steve Sisolak and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson celebrate the signing of election-related bills at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Friday, June 11, 2021. (Mikayla Whitmore/The Nevada Independent)

Sisolak lauded AB321 for permanently enshrining mail-in voting in the Silver State, which he said gives voters more options. He also commended Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) for being a “tenacious fighter” when it comes to preserving and expanding voting rights.

Frierson emphasized that AB321 doesn’t eliminate any voting options — people can vote by mail, deposit their ballots in drop-off boxes or vote in person.

“These are all options and individual liberties that Nevadans have come to enjoy,” he said.

The governor and state lawmakers also celebrated the state’s conversion to a presidential primary, which could place Nevada ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa to become the first nominating state in the nation. But that’s subject to approval from the Democratic National Committee. AB126, which moves Nevada away from a caucus, establishes that presidential primary elections would occur on the first Tuesday in February of presidential election years.

Sisolak touted Nevada’s diverse population as a reason for why it should lead the primary process, saying it “undoubtedly” represents the composition of the country.

The governor has spent the week in Las Vegas, attending a variety of bill-signing ceremonies to usher new measures into law. The legislative session ended at midnight on Memorial Day.

Secretary of state opens up about threats she received after no evidence of ‘widespread’ voter fraud found

Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske opened up Wednesday about her experience on the job after the November presidential election sparked allegations of voter fraud in Nevada, as well as about threatening emails and phone calls she and her family and staff received.

Cegavske’s appearance at the Hispanics in Politics monthly meeting in Las Vegas marked a rare public appearance by the secretary of state after the contentious election season in which she pushed back on allegations that there was widespread voter fraud. She told The Nevada Independent in an interview after her speech that the extent of the threats was “saddening” and was not something she wanted her staff to go through. 

She also said the level of threats, harassment and privacy concerns led her to unplug the phone landline in her home. 

When asked if she had been changed by the experience, Cegavske said the level of threats to family and staff, the involvement of national news and cyber security has taken a toll. 

The secretary of state also said that the fallout goes beyond threats. One website in particular (which The Nevada Independent is not naming for safety concerns) has targeted her along with other U.S. election officials through doxing, which is publishing otherwise private information with malicious intent. The website has been removed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation three times, Cegavske said. 

She also has received disapproval directly from the Republican Party after her office publicly stated that there was no evidence found of widespread voter fraud in Nevada in the 2020 presidential election, even though it was alleged by former President Donald Trump and Nevada Republicans. In April, the Nevada Republican Central Committee voted to censure Cegavske over claims that her office failed to do its job. 

Cegavske defended herself during the interview by stating that she was only following the law. 

In her speech at the group’s gathering, she acknowledged that in every election there are going to be instances of fraud, whether it is accidental (such as people with Alzheimer's who forget they already voted) or intentional (such as people attempting to bypass the citizenship requirement). But she said her office found no proof that the election was manipulated.

In March, the state Republican Party brought forward nearly 123,000 alleged fraudulent votes cast in the 2020 election as evidence for the secretary of state to review. By late April, Cegavske announced that her office still found no “evidentiary support” of widespread voter fraud.  

She also informed the Hispanic in Politics meeting attendees about bills passed in the recent legislative session that affect the election process, including AB321, which permanently expands mail voting, AB126, which turns Nevada’s presidential caucus into a primary election, and AB422, which implements a top-down voter registration system. 

Cegavske publicly asked during the event not to be recorded.

State approves first of four state worker collective bargaining agreements, though many hurdles remain

Someone affixing a stamp on documents

Statewide elected officials including Gov. Steve Sisolak have granted preliminary approval of the first ever collective bargaining contract with state employees, 

Sisolak and members of the state Board of Examiners (composed of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state) voted 2-1 on Tuesday to approve the collective bargaining agreement between the state and the union representing around 110 Category II law enforcement officers, a group of positions including criminal investigators and youth parole counselors. Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, voted against the motion.

The approved contract runs through the end of June 2023, covering everything from management and union rights, recordkeeping, leave policies, employee evaluation and compensation. It includes a 2 percent pay raise for all workers in the bargaining unit, plus a one-time bonus — employees with five to 15 years of experience will see a $500 bonus and those with 15 years of experience will receive a $1,000 bonus.

Governor’s Office of Finance Director Susan Brown said during the meeting that the total cost to the state for those enhanced compensation totals will cost the state around $418,000 — the 2 percent pay bump comes with a $277,000 price tag, and the one-time payments costing no more than $141,000. Those costs will now head to the Legislature as budget amendments, which need to be approved before the session ends on May 31.

“Collective bargaining has allowed for state employees to have a larger seat at the table and I’m proud to see the first agreement approved and on its way to the Legislature,” Sisolak said in a statement after the vote.

Cegavske opposed the motion because, she said, she was concerned about cost and said the Department of Administration, which handles the state’s collective bargaining negotiations, did not answer all of her staff’s questions on the proposed contract.

Department of Administration Director Laura Freed — who estimated that members of the state’s bargaining team have spent “well over 400 hours” in negotiations — said the secretary of state’s chief of staff did not respond to invites to two of the three training sessions held by the state, and said the state wanted to keep negotiating teams on the smaller side — noting that the secretary of state’s office only had 6 employees in the bargaining unit.

“We are regretful that the staff with the secretary of state's office feels as they do, but we can demonstrate that we made an effort to include them,” she said.

But the contract approval is only one of four that the state needs to complete over the coming week — representing ongoing negotiations with six additional bargaining units, represented by three other unions. They include:

  • Labor, maintenance and custodial (1,551 employees in the bargaining unit); professional healthcare (1,234); non-professional healthcare (748); and Category III peace officers/corrections officers (1,769). All four are represented by AFSCME Local 4041.
  • Category I Peace Officers (735), represented by the Nevada Police Union 
  • Firefighters (55), represented by Battle Born Fire Fighters Association.

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Legislature. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Democrat, former Athletic Commissioner Aguilar jumps in race for secretary of state

Sign in front of the Nevada State Capitol building

Attorney and former state Athletic Commissioner Cisco Aguilar is launching a campaign for secretary of state, the latest candidate to hop in the race to replace term-limited incumbent Barbara Cegavske.

Aguilar, a Democrat, rolled out his campaign on Tuesday touting endorsements from a host of high-profile Democrats and education advocates, including former Secretary of State Ross Miller, Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, philanthropist Beverly Rogers and tennis legend Andre Agassi. (Aguilar previously worked as general counsel for Agassi’s management company, Agassi Graf.)

In a statement, Aguilar said he wanted to run for the seat to “defend every eligible American’s right to vote,” remove barriers to voter participation and to make elections as transparent as possible to “maintain the public trust.”

“We have an opportunity to become more efficient as a government, reduce bureaucracy, and enhance access to services that are too often out of reach for many Nevadans,” Aguilar said in a statement. “Our recovery as a state is dependent on empowering our small businesses, reaching out to some of the hardest hit communities, and restoring Nevadans’ faith in government.”

Aguilar spent eight years as a member of the state’s Athletic Commission, which oversees and licenses boxing and other unarmed combat. He also is the founding chairman of Cristo Rey St. Viator, a college preparatory high school.

Two Republicans have also announced intentions to run for the statewide office. Sparks City Councilman Kris Dahir announced a bid for the office in February, and former Assemblyman Jim Marchant has also announced plans to run for the seat.

Cegavske, a Republican, won re-election to the office in 2018 over former Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Araujo by a narrow margin, fewer than 6,500 votes out of nearly a million cast. Cegavske was the only Republican candidate to win statewide in the 2018 midterms, but has drawn criticism from many in her own party (including an official censure) for her assertion that no large-scale fraud occurred in the state’s contentious 2020 election.

The office of secretary of state is likely best known for its role in managing and overseeing state elections, but the office is also granted authority over commercial recordings, notaries public and the securities division in the state.

Cegavske: No 'evidentiary support’ among NV GOP claims that 2020 election was plagued by widespread fraud

Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s office has finished its review of the Nevada Republican Party’s alleged evidence of massive voter fraud in the 2020 election and found the concerns “do not amount to evidentiary support for the contention that the 2020 general election was plagued by widespread voter fraud.”

In a 13-page report released Wednesday, Cegavske’s office submitted a full response denying many of the state Republican Party’s continued assertions that the 2020 election in Nevada, which was largely conducted by mail voting because of the COVID-19 pandemic, saw rampant voter fraud.

“Our investigation revealed that these allegations and others are based largely upon an incomplete assessment of voter registration records and lack of information concerning the processes by which these records are compiled and maintained,” Deputy Secretary of State Mark Wlaschin wrote in a response letter. 

The state Republican Party — whose central committee voted to censure Cegavske, a Republican, during a meeting earlier this month — brought four boxes of what it claimed was evidence of nearly 123,000 fraudulent votes cast in the 2020 election to the secretary of state’s office in early March.

Cegavske — whose office has continually stated that Nevada has received no evidence of “wide-spread” fraud in the 2020 election — wrote in the response letter that her office had clocked more than 125 hours of staff time in documenting and investigating the voter fraud complaints.

The four boxes of material and alleged 123,000 fraudulent votes were condensed down into 3,963 individual election integrity violation reports, grouped by category of alleged election violation or type of fraudulent vote. Out of those reports, the office said it largely covered ground that was already under investigation by election officials and law enforcement, or relied on a misunderstanding or lack of full understanding of the state’s voter registration system.

“It was essential that we took the time to fully evaluate each complaint and to make a determination based on the merits of each report,” Cegavske said in a statement.

The report goes into detail addressing and debunking allegations of thousands of noncitizens or deceased persons voting in the 2020 election, while taking care to note when the office had referred the small number of potential cases of fraud to law enforcement.

For non-citizens, the Nevada Republican Party complaint identified 3,987 persons who may have not been citizens who were recorded as casting a ballot in the 2020 election. The secretary of state’s office retraced those steps by requesting personal information of individuals who presented an immigration document while obtaining a drivers’ license from the DMV over the last five years — the same basis of the state Republican Party’s complaint.

The report states that the DMV’s list included 110,000 individuals, with about 5,300 listed as active registered voters (of which 4,057 had an active voter history for the 2020 election).

However, the secretary of state’s office said that public records showed more than 40,600 documented immigrants had become naturalized citizens between 2015 and 2019, and that on average three years had passed between the date of the DMV transaction and the 2020 election. 

“Without specific evidence to establish that identified individuals were foreign nationals when they voted in the November 3 election, there is nothing further that can be investigated,” the report stated. “In summary, the generalized information acquired from DMV cannot serve as a basis for an investigation into alleged voter fraud.”

The complaint also pushed back on state Republican claims that more than 1,500 deceased voters were recorded as casting a ballot by mail in the 2020 election. The secretary of state’s office said it contacted the Office of Vital Statistics in March to cross-check the names of the alleged deceased voters, but found that only 10 of the 1,506 records matched deceased individuals.

“This immediately raised questions about the quality of the information that spurred this allegation,” the office said in the report, while noting it had referred the 10 deceased individuals from the list to law enforcement.

One of the larger categories of alleged fraud (21,142 individuals who were accused of double voting) was also addressed in the report. Of that total, around 2,800 were shown to have only cast one ballot, but may have had issues with duplicate registration or data entry errors.

For the remaining 18,300 alleged double-voters, the secretary of state’s office said it compared the list to the office’s “Multiple Votes Cast” report, an internal query conducted after every election to examine every Nevadan’s voter history to determine if a person had cast more than one ballot. That “Multiple Votes Cast” report identified 1,778 voter records that “required reconciliation,” and the secretary of state’s report states that 10 of those voter records were forwarded to law enforcement for further investigation.

The secretary of state’s office said it found no matches between the flagged “Multiple Votes Cast” report and the list of alleged double-voters provided by the state Republican Party. 

“While the first lines of data identified individuals who had matching birthdates, addresses, and similar names (e.g., Edward vs. Edwin), the remaining 18,314 pairs of individuals have distinct differences in their names, addresses, birthdates, and other information suggesting that they are not the same person,” the report stated. “For example, many of the individuals seem to have been matched on such minimal information as ‘birth year’ and ‘street address’ so there are a number of alleged ‘double voters’ who merely live on the same street as someone else born in the same year. “

The Nevada Republican Party also claimed that more than 8,800 voters had listed a commercial address as their registration address on file, but the secretary of state’s report pointed to a section of state law allowing persons to list a commercial address if they actually live there.

Using a statistical sampling method, the office found many of the “commercial” addresses on file to be apartment complexes, RV or mobile home parks, long-term rental hotels or other addresses with housing options. The office found nine addresses without an attached living space, and forwarded the information to county clerks for reconciliation.

The office provided fewer details on claims that the Nevada Native Vote Project allegedly violated state and federal law by offering gift cards and other benefits to encourage increased voter turnout among tribal communities — writing simply that the “alleged violation is currently under investigation by law enforcement.”

A representative of the state Republican Party did not immediately return an email seeking comment on Wednesday.

Nevada Republicans vote to censure SOS Cegavske over voter fraud allegations

The Nevada Republican Party Central Committee has voted to censure the state’s GOP secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, over claims that her office failed to do its job and “put the reliability of our elections in Nevada in question.”

Members of the central committee voted to approve the censure on a 126-112 vote on Saturday during the party’s spring meeting in Carson City, sources told The Nevada Independent. The censure, which was amended before a vote, originally banned Cegavske from party endorsements or resources for “the intense dishonor her failures brought upon the Nevada Republican Party.”

A cover letter obtained by The Nevada Independent reiterates that the state party brought forward four boxes of evidence purporting to show tens of thousands of alleged examples of voter fraud that allegedly occurred in the 2020 election. The letter states that the state party saw a “surge in communications with sometimes vulgar messages” by individual Republicans saying they had left the party “claiming we did nothing to ensure voter integrity.”

“The irresponsible messaging of the Nevada Secretary of State, claiming, without investigating, that this election was error free, causing these attacks on our Nevada Republican Party,” the cover letter states.

Cegavske, in a statement Sunday morning, pushed back against the premise of the censure:

"Regrettably, members of my own political party have decided to censure me simply because they are disappointed with the outcome of the 2020 election," she said. "My job is to carry out the duties of my office as enacted by the Nevada Legislature, not carry water for the state GOP or put my thumb on the scale of democracy. Unfortunately, members of my own party continue to believe the 2020 general election was wrought with fraud - and that somehow I had a part in it - despite a complete lack of evidence to support that belief. Regardless of the censure vote today by the Nevada Republican Party Central Committee, I will continue in my efforts to oversee secure elections in Nevada and to restore confidence in our elections, confidence which has been destroyed by those falsely claiming the 2020 general election produced widespread fraud."

The censure repeats various claims of voter fraud in Nevada made by the Trump campaign and state Republican Party, many of which originated from election challenges that lost in state court last year. Reasons for the censure are listed as a “failure to investigate election fraud, her dismissive public statements regarding election integrity concerns and her failure to ensure compliance with Nevada and federal election law.”

The censure resolution originally cited a section of state law that deals with the removal of state and local party committee members, not rank-and-file registered party members. But central committee members voted to remove that section referring to removing Cegavske from the party from the resolution prior to the vote.

Cegavske’s office has publicly stated that the state has received no evidence of “wide-spread” fraud in the 2020 election. Her office also publicly responded to the state party’s drop off of alleged evidence, disputing the number of total Election Integrity Reports filed and promising that staff will “conduct a detailed examination of these reports.”

Cegavske, who previously served in the Assembly and state Senate, was the only Republican to win a statewide race in the 2018 midterm elections, narrowly beating Democratic candidate Nelson Araujo.

Bipartisan statements of support for Cegavske began to pour in after the vote and on Sunday morning, including from Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford, Treasurer Zach Conine, Rep. Steven Horsford, state Sens. Heidi Gansert and Marilyn Dondero Loop and Assemblywoman Jill Tolles. During the meeting, sources said, Republican National Committeewoman Michele Fiore, who had said after the election that Donald Trump won, came to Cegavske's defense. State GOP Chairman Michael McDonald left the dais during the debate and did not speak.

"During its meeting this weekend, the Nevada Republican Party had a healthy debate regarding November’s election and the role of our Secretary of State," state GOP Executive Director Jessica Hanson said in a statement. "While the vote to censure Secretary Cegavske passed narrowly, what unites all Nevada Republicans is their commitment to ensure the Silver State has the safest and fairest elections in the country and the Nevada Republican Party will work day and night to turn this state into the model for election integrity. The Nevada Republican Party holds our elected officials to a high standard. As such, today the party sent a clear message that our officials must work for the people and we demand that our representatives at all levels of government uphold their Oath of Office."

This story was updated at 8:45 AM on 4/11/21 with a statement from the secretary of state and also at 10:20 AM with a summary of statements of support for Barbara Cegavske and removal of the words "and dissociate" from the opening paragraph to reflect the amended censure resolution that ultimately passed.

Here is the cover letter and the original resolution prepared for passage:

And here is the resolution that finally passed: