Lawmakers advance bill that could make Nevada first presidential nominating state, but many challenges remain

Nevada lawmakers have taken the first steps in processing legislation that would move the state to the top of the presidential nominating calendar in 2024 — though many hurdles outside the legislative realm remain.

Members of the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee voted along party-lines to approve AB126 on Thursday, the bill from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to end Nevada’s presidential caucus and replace it with a primary election that would leapfrog other states to the front of the nominating calendar.

Frierson said during the hearing that Nevada has “consistently punched above our weight” on major national issues from racial justice to climate change, and that the state’s population better reflects the nation as a whole.

“Our voices are diverse and better reflect the rest of the country than the current nominating structure,” he said. “It's time for Nevada to take its rightful place, not just first in the West, but first in the nation.”

The bill lays out the form and function of how a presidential primary election would work in the state, and largely mirrors provisions that govern the state’s existing summer primary election structure. A proposed amendment to the bill sets the date of the presidential election to the first Tuesday in February in every presidential election year.

The measure would also require at least 10 days of early voting, extending through the Friday before the election. It also copies over provisions allowing same-day registration that currently exist in law to apply to presidential primary elections.

The proposed amendment also changes candidate filing schedules, moving the currently separate judicial and non-judicial candidate filing periods to the same, three-week window starting on the last Monday in February.

The measure was lauded by a broad array of progressive and Democrat-aligned groups including the Culinary Union, Battle Born Progress, ACLU of Nevada, Nevada State Education Association, Faith Organizing Alliance and Mi Familia Vota, among others. Many said they were frustrated by the experience of the caucus, and that a move to a primary would make it easier to participate in the nominating process.

“Everyday working Nevadans, which are the communities that we and our partners work with on a daily basis, may not be able to commit to several hours to attend their precinct caucus,” Silver State Voices Executive Director Emily Persaud-Zamora said during the hearing. “It is simply inaccessible to many Nevadans.”

But state lawmakers cannot simply legislate themselves into becoming the first presidential nominating state. 

That decision ultimately rests with the national political party organizations, which set the nominating calendar and can take punitive action against states that violate party rules, including cutting the allocated number of delegates to party conventions (a similar attempted maneuver happened in Florida in 2011).

And the other three early nominating states will likely not take the leapfrogging lying down. New Hampshire has even explicitly written into state law that its presidential primary must be held seven days or more before another state’s “similar election.”

Asked by Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) what Nevada could do if other early states reacted to the bill by moving ahead of the primary date set in AB126, Frierson largely demurred, saying the legislation was just the first step in state leaders “making the case” that it should go first.

“We are certainly not able to have a moving scale the way some states do, and so our job is to make our case, not just to the RNC and the DNC, but also to those other states that we are a better reflection,” he said.

The bill may get a warmer reception from the national Democratic Party, whose leaders have in recent weeks discussed moving South Carolina and Nevada to the front of the primary election schedule. It’s part of intense behind-the-scenes jockeying to shake up the nominating calendar after Iowa’s disastrous 2020 caucus and a desire to have more diverse states than Iowa or New Hampshire featured early in the calendar.

However, it could face a much colder reception from the Republican National Committee. The Des Moines Register reported in January that state Republican party chairs from the first four early states had met and agreed to work together to avoid any major changes to the current nominating process. Nevada Republican Party Chair Michael McDonald submitted a letter opposing the measure, saying that “trying to play chicken with primary dates is not a battle we will win.”

Jim DeGraffenreid, one of Nevada’s Republican National Committee members, said the bill would likely run afoul of current national political party rules on when nominating contests could be held, and said that the party didn’t think it was a “good use of state resources” to switch to a primary.

“Leaving us the choice of how to nominate our own candidates is far more fair than having the state dictate that we abandon a fair and inclusive process,” he said.

Republican members of the committee also balked at the potential cost of the measure — a fiscal note submitted by the secretary of state’s office estimated that the cost of holding a primary election to be around $5.2 million. Dickman said she was also concerned that the measure likely violated national political party rules and could lead to Nevada losing its early nominating spot, but Frierson said that wasn’t the case.

“I have not received any indication that this is jeopardizing our position in the West, let alone in the country,” he said.

Assembly committee advances bill to limit police collaboration with immigration enforcement officials

Clark County Detention Center

A legislative committee voted on party lines Wednesday to limit local police cooperation with federal immigration authorities after hearing stories of families affected by deportations, including a 13-year-old boy who became suicidal during his father’s monthslong stay in immigration detention.

The Assembly Government Affairs Committee voted 8-5 to advance AB376, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), which — among other things — bars law enforcement from detaining a person at the request of immigration authorities unless there is a warrant for that person and requires police to warn people that their answers to questions about their birthplace could be used against them in deportation proceedings.

“Federal government agencies should not be allowed to commandeer our state's scarce public safety resources,” Torres said. “Studies also show that misuse of local resources for federal immigration enforcement has a negative effect on reporting for both victims and witnesses of crime.”

The bill, which also declares that it is not the primary purpose of local law enforcement to enforce civil federal immigration law, is part of a long struggle between immigrant advocates and police agencies over practices such as jails holding inmates longer than they otherwise would in order to give immigration officials a chance to take custody of them. 

While some agencies have dropped formal 287(g) partnerships with the federal government, activists say less-formal collaboration still happens and can turn arrests for minor infractions into life-altering, family-splitting deportations.

That’s what Jennifer Antonio testified happened to her husband, an undocumented immigrant, in August 2019. She said her then-11-year-old son Ethan has ADHD and tried to run away during a behavioral episode; when her husband grabbed the boy’s jacket to stop him, someone called the police and both the boy and her husband were arrested.

The boy was released to his mother shortly after, but Antonio’s husband was detained for nine months and authorities said she could not bail him out because he was on an immigration hold. With less supervision, Ethan started acting out, becoming depressed and even attempting suicide.

“My father got out of immigration three days before my birthday, and that was the best present that I could have ever had,” Ethan testified. “Now he is home, and I feel better, but we still live in fear that they will come for my father. Please stop taking people from their families. It’s not right.”

Opponents, however, questioned whether the bill would prevent authorities from catching dangerous criminals who have violated immigration laws. Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) pointed to a news article about the arrest of two Yemeni men apprehended by the Border Patrol who had been on a terror watch list and asked if the bill would prevent local police from helping bring them into custody. 

“There's nothing preventing ICE from doing their job,” Torres replied. “Additionally, in the legislation it's abundantly clear that if there is a federal warrant, they can still detain those individuals and they would be transferred into ICE custody.”

The bill would bar state and local law enforcement from using agency money or personnel to investigate, question or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes, and specifies that police should not detain someone solely for the purpose of determining their immigration status. It also bars local agencies from allowing federal immigration officials to question inmates in local custody about noncriminal matters unless the interview is voluntary or backed by a court order.

Police agencies opposed the bill, raising a litany of issues with the language. Chuck Callaway, lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said that asking arrestees about their birthplace is legitimate because police have to notify certain countries such as China and Saudi Arabia when their citizens are arrested. 

He said the measure also would prevent jail personnel from answering questions from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about when an inmate was going to be released if federal authorities wanted to detain someone exiting the jail. Eric Spratley of the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association added that the Miranda rights-style disclosure the bill requires to alert inmates that any answers they provide could be used for immigration enforcement will make inmates distrustful. 

“It will make people we are coming in contact with feel like we are now partnered for immigration purposes, and further widen this racial divide that law enforcement is actively trying to repair,” he said.

Members of the public opposing the bill said it would give Nevada a reputation as a “sanctuary state” that could repel tourists and invite crime.

“Bills like AB376 invite people to break our laws at the expense of our most vulnerable Nevada citizens,” Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald said in written comments. “The United States of America is a land of laws and we ask that this committee respect our country enough to abide by the existing laws already in place.”

But supporters argued that striking a clearer divide between local police and federal immigration enforcement officers would build trust and create a safer community. Liz Ortenburger, CEO of the nonprofit Safe Nest dedicated to victims of domestic violence, said fear of deportation prevents victims from calling the police or seeking a restraining order.

“We also see in the eyes of many of our victims the fear of being deported and taken away from their children, and leaving their children unsupervised at the hands of a batterer,” she said. “All of this creates more abuse, more cycles, more traumatized children, and more generational violence in our community.”

Education advocates testified that the bill could ease anxiety among children with undocumented parents and help them focus on school. The bill specifically prevents school police from inquiring about or collecting information about a person’s immigration status or birthplace.

Sylvia Lazos, a professor at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, noted that close to half of the students in the Clark County School District have one or more immigrant parents, and some of those are undocumented.

“When a parent is deported, the children who are left behind are traumatized, not knowing why their parents abandoned them, fearful that no one will take care for them,” she wrote. “Exactly what is the Southern Nevada community gaining from such policies?” 

A less controversial element of the bill, which was dubbed the Keep Nevada Working Act, establishes a task force affiliated with the lieutenant governor’s office and the Office for New Americans that would explore ways to attract and retain immigrant-owned businesses. The group would conduct research and submit recommendations to the Legislature about developing small businesses and maintaining stability in the agricultural workforce, which is made up predominantly of immigrants.  

“Creating the task force will assist our state in continuing to attract and retain a talented workforce, including entrepreneurs and small businesses, to create jobs and prosperity,” said Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, a Democrat.

The hearing and vote were the first steps for the bill, which now heads to the Assembly for a possible vote.

Most 2020 Nevada election integrity cases resolved without finding of fraud; recent Republican document drop under review

The vast majority of election complaint case files submitted to top Nevada election officials in the last six months regarding the 2020 election were closed without any findings that election laws were violated, even as many Republicans continue to assert that the election was rife with fraud and stolen from former President Donald Trump.

A log obtained by The Nevada Independent through a public records request shows there were 298 election integrity case files submitted to the secretary of state’s office from the beginning of September through Tuesday. It does not characterize the complexity of any individual case — such as whether a complainant suggested a single improper vote or submitted a spreadsheet alleging thousands of suspicious votes — or offer names of complainants or the accused.

Of those case files, 255 — or 86 percent — have been closed either because no violation was found, the underlying issue was resolved, or the case was referred to investigatory authority in the secretary of state’s office.

Only 41 of the roughly 300 files submitted for the 2020 election have not been resolved, which includes 15 submitted by the Nevada Republican Party earlier this month (many entries in the log list out several thousand alleged examples of voter fraud). The GOP and the state had widely varied public descriptions of the scope of their submission, with the party saying it submitted 122,918 records, and the state categorizing it as fewer than 4,000 distinct reports.

The log shows basic information about Election Integrity Violation Reports received by the office, which is the public-facing complaint form that individuals can submit to the secretary of state’s office identifying alleged instances of fraud or violations of election law. 

A single report can contain multiple examples of alleged “fraud” or issues, which likely explains the variance between the number of reports that the state and Republican Party say were submitted.

The document gives a fuller view of the work that Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s office has done to investigate largely unsupported allegations of voter fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election — a line that Trump and prominent state and national Republican Party officials have repeated since the election was called for President Joe Biden.

The secretary of state’s office has maintained for months that it has not seen any evidence of widespread voter fraud that could meaningfully affect Trump’s 33,596-vote loss to Biden in the state, but says it is still investigating several “isolated” cases of potential fraud.

Among the findings in the log:

  • Seven of the submitted complaints were listed as “Referred to Securities” or “Currently with Securities” — meaning they had been referred out for potential action by law enforcement. Four of the complaints dealt with “campaign practices,” two dealt with “voter fraud” and one dealt with “misconduct.”
  • About 75 of the complaints are labeled as “data base concerns (voter history)” and all but one originated in the month of November. At that time, the secretary of state’s office was trying to clarify to the public why an online system might not have reflected that a person’s vote had been counted; the system was not updated until the election was certified, even if the ballot was already counted.
  • Two complaints of “ballot sent to deceased person” are shown as closed with no violation.
  • 35 complaints, filed at various points throughout the campaign season, deal with “campaign practices;” 27 of those are listed as resolved with no violation.
  • 52 of the resolved complaints are categorized as “voter fraud” with no further information listed. 
  • About a dozen complaints listed polling place concerns or irregularities, including two about poll worker attire.

In a press release issued Tuesday, the secretary of state’s office said it had inventoried, labeled and evaluated all election-related complaints submitted by the state Republican Party after a rally-style event two weeks ago. The office said the assessment revealed far fewer Election Integrity Violation Reports than the party advertised in a press release, all of which were filed by the chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, Michael McDonald, with several “already under investigation by law enforcement.”

A letter the secretary of state’s office sent to the Nevada GOP as a “receipt” on Tuesday, and that was obtained through a public records request, indicates the GOP had delivered in four boxes, a USB drive with 23 documents and spreadsheets, three business cards and 3,963 elections integrity violation reports. 

“We take every complaint seriously and will conduct a thorough and detailed examination of the information provided,” the letter said.

It also indicated that eight of the documents on the USB drive were sworn affidavits that had been redacted, and the secretary of state’s office requested unredacted versions as soon as possible. 

Details in the election violation report log and the response letter indicate that several of the affidavits appear to be copies of material or reports that the Trump campaign submitted to a state court as part of an election challenge seeking to have presidential results in the state overturned. All of the cases failed in court, though the party has released some of the affidavits or evidence originally filed under seal on its website.

In a response to Cegavske that was published Tuesday, the Nevada Republican Party said the secretary of state’s Tuesday statement is “validating our assertion that there is voter fraud in the 2020 election” and planned to follow up with emailed copies of “each and every complaint.”

“We need better transparency from our elected officials investigating these matters, especially with so many Nevadans questioning the integrity of our voting process,” the party said in an emailed statement Wednesday. “We hope that Secretary Cegavske finally demonstrates a commitment to the concept that no amount of voter fraud is acceptable in the great State of Nevada.”

To see a copy of the Election Integrity Violation Report log, please use the following link.

Behind the Bar: Just how slow is the start of session? NV GOP alleges election fraud (again), unemployment updates and bills to watch for this week

Behind the Bar is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2021 Legislature. 

In this edition: Has this session started slower than others? Plus, the Nevada Republican Party turns in election complaints, unemployment updates and related GOP indignation, plus a look at upcoming major bill hearings.

Check this link to manage your newsletter subscriptions. The newsletter is published on Mondays and Thursdays.

I want to hear from you! Questions, comments, observations, jokes, what you think we should be covering or paying attention to. Email me at rsnyder@thenvindy.com.


It’s around this time of every legislative session, pandemic or no pandemic, that the whispers start.

“What’s taking drafting so long? Why are they going so slow? How are they going to meet the deadline?”

While there might not be lobbyists in the building just yet, I’ve started to hear the same whisperings this session.

The day this newsletter publishes, March 8, is the 36th day of the 120-day legislative session. The deadline for lawmaker bill introductions is a week away (March 15), and the deadline for most other remaining bill introductions is two weeks away (March 22).

Rather than just rely on a general sense that things are moving slowly this session, I wanted to take a look and compare this session’s quote-unquote productivity with recent sessions.

So far in 2021 (as of Friday, March 5), there have been 401 bill or resolution introductions, along with 349 committee actions (hearings, amendments, or bills mentioned) and 881 floor actions — which includes bill introductions, amendments, votes or generally any other action taken on the Senate or Assembly floor.

That’s behind the pace of the 2019 legislative session, which at this point had 539 bills or resolutions introduced, 432 committee actions and 1,103 floor actions. 

It’s even further behind the pace of the 2017 session — 574 bill or resolution introductions, 559 committee actions and 1,579 floor actions at this point.

So by those metrics, the pace so far is slower than the last two sessions. Some caveats: let me be the latest reporter to tell you that we’re in a pandemic; many of the normal practices and courses of the legislative session have been thrown off by COVID-related disruptions and delays.

And going by raw numbers of bills isn’t the best measure of productivity — not all bills are created equal, and many are destined for the legislative graveyard (see Richard McArthur’s bill eliminating scheduled minimum wage increases or any of the other red-meat Republican Party priorities).

That said, there isn’t too much of a public sense of urgency with nearly a third of the session completed. There’s only been one Friday floor session to date (last week in the Assembly) and many committees are still canceling meetings scheduled for Thursday evening or Friday, save for the budget committees. 

Circling back to the original point, I don’t think this is some unique failure of current legislative leadership — there’s always been a slow start to the session, with a frantic rush at the end to wrap everything up before Sine Die arrives.

If you think slow legislative starts are by any means a new phenomenon, check out this neat compilation of legislative history on the constitutional amendment that set the strict 120-day time limit for legislative sessions (passed in 1998, debated in 1995 and 1997. A special hat tip to lobbyist Lea Case for forwarding it). 

It’s a fun read — the back and forth between former Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio and then-Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus is feisty, and a certain large Las Vegas newspaper supported the change in an op-ed because “lawmakers operating under a hard-and-fast deadline will become more focused and less prone to mischief.” 

And in a weird twist, former Democratic Sen. Mike Schneider in a floor speech in 1997 appears to have sort of eerily predicted the future virtual session, warning that: “Maybe legislators, 50 years from now, will be with their lap top computers and be called from Carson City and hearings will be held instantaneously around the state.”

“Each session has different priorities and each session probably takes a different number of days to complete,” said Schneider, the only “no” vote against the resolution in 1997. “We do not know how long it will take to complete a session because of the types of bills that come in.”

— Riley Snyder


NV GOP’s voter fraud crusade continues

A full 121 days after Election Day 2020, Nevada Republican Party leadership and a crowd of about 40 supporters gathered on the steps of the state Capitol on Thursday to turn in boxes filled with what they said were more than 122,000 reports of election irregularities in the previous election.

Despite assurances from the Nevada secretary of state and election officials in major counties and state court decisions rejecting the notion that widespread voter fraud had occurred in the 2020 election, Republican Party leadership nonetheless continued to echo the unsupported rhetoric that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

The complaints submitted Thursday largely include instances of alleged fraud previously identified by the Trump campaign and state Republican Party in court — deceased voters (1,506), non-citizen voters (3,987) commercial or non-existent addresses (8,842 and 8,111) and alleged duplicate voters (42,284). 

Many of those categories were mentioned in data reports submitted as part of the Trump campaign’s lawsuit against the state, but were initially filed under seal (some later released on the party’s website) and did not publicly name which individuals it had accused of cheating the system.

On Thursday, speakers sought to walk a careful line between relitigating 2020 and various claims of fraud, while looking ahead to future elections and potential legislative changes to the state’s election process.

“We don’t agree on much these days, but at the end of the day, we have to come together and unite to fix this broken abortion of a bill,” state party Chairman Michael McDonald said in reference to AB4 of the 2020 special session, at one point adding that “this isn’t about the past election...if we do not have fair and open elections, this state is dead.”

Others, such as former Republican congressional candidate Jim Marchant, remained focused on 2020.

“I believe the race was stolen from me,” said Marchant, who lost by more than 16,000 votes in his bid against incumbent Democratic Rep. Steve Horsford. “I believe the race was stolen from Donald Trump.”

Marchant said he was “very passionate” about voter fraud issues and planned to run for Secretary of State in 2022.

A spokeswoman for the secretary of state confirmed that the office had received the complaints and will “review them and investigate when warranted.”

— Riley Snyder


DETR by the numbers

The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) presented its projected unemployment insurance budget for the upcoming two-year budget cycle to a joint budget committee on Thursday.  Here are some figures that stood out:

82,847: The number of unemployment insurance (UI) and pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) claims that DETR still has pending. Those are initial claims that the department still must process and administer funds for. UI and PUA claims each make up about half of the total pending claims.

306,632: The number of UI and PUA claims suspected to be fraudulent that are pending identity verification. More than 250,000 of those are PUA claims. Jeff Frischmann, an administrator at DETR, said that many of those claims came from a spike of around 100,000 claims filed in early January following the passage of the federal stimulus bill.

4: The projected number of years it will take DETR to modernize its UI computer system. A January report from the DETR Rapid Response Strike Force recommended that the department modernize its UI system, with upgrades projected to cost between $30 and $50 million. During the budget presentation, Marylin Delmont, the department’s IT administrator, said that it would take at least three and a half to four years to implement a new system after receiving a federal award for the upgrades. However, the funding request process can take as long as a year, and DETR has not yet identified a source for federal funding for system modernization.

$178 million: The state’s unemployment trust fund debt. That number, which continues to climb, represents nearly $200 million in loans that Nevada has received from the federal government in order to maintain the state’s unemployment trust fund. Those loans remain interest free through the middle of March, though the interest moratorium could potentially be extended by the next federal stimulus bill. 

155: The number of intermittent full-time employees that DETR hopes to maintain in the upcoming biennium to handle the increased number of pandemic-related claims. The 155 employees are a part of a proposed amendment to the department’s budget and have not yet been approved. Those employees would cover a variety of different roles, including 92 positions for call center support and 36 for fraud support. The estimated cost of the proposed amendment is a little more than $12 million for each fiscal year of the biennium.

— Sean Golonka


Republicans call DETR situation “shocking”

Republicans took to social media after the DETR budget presentation described in the previous item to call the numbers of claims held up over ID issues “shocking,” with Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) adding “it’s time for us to ask the tough questions of our unemployment compensation system.”

Dickman has requested a BDR that would take the following steps:

  • Allocate $48.5 million for the modernization of DETR’s system
  • Begin updating the system immediately upon allocation
  • Have the legislative auditor examine DETR’s processes for ensuring accurate data about claims during the pandemic, and evaluate the agency’s processes for detecting and preventing fraud. A report would be due at the end of 2022.

It’s also worth noting that Republican senators including Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) recently met with Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants to try to develop an intervention into DETR problems.

Bill language has yet to come out, and with this expenditure not included in the governor’s budget, Republicans who have been vociferous about the unemployment problems under a Democratic administration still need to identify where the money for an immediate modernization would come from. Another big question: would any of these big-picture plans address the immediate pain of claimants who are stuck in the system right now, or are less-flashy tweaks the answer?

We’ll be watching this week for more specifics about these proposals, what happens when DETR’s capstone bill SB75 comes up for a work session on Monday, and how the COVID relief bill that’s on the brink of passage may change the entire calculus.

— Michelle Rindels


Upcoming Bills of Note

Requiring courthouses to have lactation rooms for members of the public, preventing schools from having racially insensitive mascots or logos, and creating an all-payer claims database related to health services are just some of the top issues scheduled for hearings this week.

Below, we’ve listed out the hearing times and short descriptions for those high-profile measures. They’re accurate as of Sunday afternoon, but are subject to change at any time (given that the Legislature is exempted from Open Meeting Law). For links and times to watch committee meetings, check out the Legislature’s website.

Here’s what to watch this week in the Legislature:

Monday, 9 a.m. - Assembly Judiciary reviewing AB64, a bill that increases penalties and makes other changes to laws on prostitution. It’s sponsored by the attorney general’s office.

Monday, 10 a.m. - Assembly Government Affairs reviews AB196, which generally requires courthouses in the state to provide a lactation room for a member of the public.

Monday, 3:30 p.m. - Senate Growth and Infrastructure plans to review SB196, a bill by Sen. James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) that would make an “anatomical gift” (organ or other body part donation after death) an opt-out, rather than opt-in system.

Tuesday, 9 a.m. - Assembly Government Affairs reviews AB99, which would raise the prevailing wage minimum threshold for public works or construction projects undertaken by the Nevada System of Higher Education. It’s sponsored by Assemblyman John Ellison (R-Elko).

Tuesday, 1:30 p.m. - Assembly Education to review AB88, a bill by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) prohibiting schools from using an “identifier” such as a name, logo, mascot, song or other identifier that is racially discriminatory or is associated with a person “with a racially discriminatory history.” It’d also authorize higher education governing bodies to adopt similar provisions, but require the state Board on Geographic Names to change any similar racially discriminatory names of places or geographic features. 

Tuesday, 3:30 p.m. - Senate Health and Human Services to review SB40, a bill by the state Patient Protection Commission that would create an all-payer claims database of information relating to health insurance claims resulting from medical, dental or pharmacy benefits provided in the state.

Wednesday, 8 a.m. - Assembly Judiciary to hear AB42, a bill that implements the Nevada Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Anderson v. Nevada requiring any person convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime that would prohibit them from owning firearms have the right to a jury trial

Wednesday, 1 p.m. - Senate Judiciary will review SB140, a bill by Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) that would require inmates working for the state to be paid the minimum wage.

Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. - Senate Growth and Infrastructure to hear SB162, which would allow drivers of low emission and energy-efficient vehicles to use the HOV or carpool lane regardless of the number of passengers.

What we’re reading

The first installment of Megan Messerly’s ‘What Happened Here’ COVID retrospective.

Tabitha Mueller takes a deep dive into issues of affordable housing and housing supply that could come up this session. Didn’t realize it, but the highly-touted $10 million in tax credits for affordable housing hasn’t really been used at all in the last two years. 

A 54 percent increase in contract buyouts among Nevada colleges and universities, via Jacob Solis.

Jannelle Calderon reports on fallout from a federal court loss for backers of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Has COVID killed off the famous Las Vegas buffets? (Reno Gazette-Journal)

Legislation aims to end racial disparities in youth possession of weed (Nevada Current).

“In a letter read into testimony, one inmate said because of the deductions, his mother ‘has to send $17.50 for me to buy a $2.50 deodorant’” (Nevada Current).

Assemblywoman makes case for treating pretrial house arrest as time served. (Nevada Current)

Attorney Sigal Chattah takes a break from suing the state to announce a run for attorney general (Associated Press).

The understaffed Department of Corrections wants a staffing study, but Assemblywoman Brittney Miller asks why we need a study for a problem we’ve already identified (Nevada Appeal).

In proceedings slightly less dramatic than the 1917 October Revolution, Judith Whitmer defeated Tick Segerblom to become the new head of the Nevada State Democratic Party (Las Vegas Review-Journal).

UPCOMING DEADLINES

Days to take action on Initiative Petitions before they go to the 2022 ballot: 4 (March 12, 2021)

Days Until Legislator Bill Introduction Deadline: 7 (March 15, 2021)

Days Until Sine Die: 84 (May 31, 2021)

Updated at 10:20 a.m. on Monday, March 8 to correct the number of filed bills or resolutions for the 2021, 2019, and 2017 session. The previous totals did not include the number of pre-filed bills.

Trump campaign announces lawsuit challenging registration status of voters amid razor-thin election margin

President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Nevada Republican Party plan to file a federal lawsuit in Las Vegas this morning asking a judge to stop the counting of “improper votes,” alleging that tens of thousands of people in the state cast a ballot despite no longer living here.

Members of the Trump campaign announced details of the lawsuit at a press conference outside of the Clark County Elections Department headquarters in Las Vegas. The announcement came shortly before the release of more election results in Nevada, showing that former Vice President Joe Biden now has a roughly 12,000-vote lead over Trump.

News of the lawsuit was first reported by Fox News

Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt walks pass President Donald Trump supporters after conducting a press conference in front of Clark County Election Department on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Former attorney general and Trump campaign co-chair Adam Laxalt said that the campaign believed that there were “many” mail ballots submitted by deceased individuals or by people who have moved out of Clark County during the pandemic. Former Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell also claimed that the campaign was not being allowed to check returned ballots, and that the lawsuit was being filed to “protect legal voters.”

But the campaign did not offer evidence of the alleged fraud or deceased people voting — save for a 78-year-old Las Vegas woman who said she was prevented from voting in-person — and left without answering media questions, instead saying Clark County should be answering the questions.

“We don’t have access to the information,” said Grenell, a Trump campaign official. “They are not giving us access to the ballots.”

Grenell framed the litigation as the remedy to protecting legal voters who cast ballots in this election. He also cast blame on the “Harry Reid Machine,” alleging it recklessly threw ballots in the mail ahead of the general election (the U.S. Postal Service delivers mail ballots in Nevada and other states).

“It is unacceptable in this country to have illegal votes counted and that is what’s happening in the state of Nevada,” he said. “We’ve asked Clark County for answers. They have no answers. They continue to count illegal votes. That is unacceptable and it is giving legal people a sense that the system is corrupt.”

Trump supporters gather in front of Clark County Election Department on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The lawsuit had not been filed in federal court as of 9 a.m. on Tuesday, and it's unclear what kind of relief a judge could offer given that election officials typically process mail ballots by separating the envelopes and ballots before they’re processed, to ensure ballot secrecy. That means any challenged registered voters who have already cast a mail ballot and have had it processed by election officials could not have the ballot “pulled” from totals — though a judicial order could theoretically prevent ballots from voters challenged by the Trump campaign from being counted.

Attorney General Aaron Ford called the latest lawsuit a "Hail Mary attempt at undermining the vote," during a Facebook Live interview about Nevada's election results with Battle Born Progress, a progressive advocacy group.

"We need to trust the process and finish it out," Ford said. “Rest assured, again, that we have people here who know how to run fair, safe and secure elections and voter fraud is a very minimal occurrence.”

Nevada generally allows overseas or military voters to cast a ballot while not actively residing in the state, and state law generally anticipates mailing ballots to registered voters who are currently out of state, such as college students.

Trump’s campaign has filed lawsuits contesting vote counts in several of the undecided or recently called states, including Pennsylvania, Georgia and Michigan. 

The campaign previously filed emergency requests for judicial intervention in Clark County’s system of processing mail votes through use of an automated signature verification machine. That request was denied outright by a district court judge, with the Nevada Supreme Court declining to take any immediate action on the request this week.

Nevada law does contain a procedure to challenge the residency of registered voters, but requires the filing of an affidavit at least 25 days before the election.

Updated at 9:40 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5, to include information from the press conference and at 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5 to include comments from Attorney General Aaron Ford.

Tabitha Mueller contributed to this story.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Nevada Supreme Court rejects Trump campaign emergency request to limit mail ballot counting in Clark County

The front of the Nevada Supreme Court Building

The Nevada Supreme Court has denied an emergency request by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the state Republican Party to immediately order Clark County election officials to stop processing mail ballots.

The appeal, filed Tuesday in the state Supreme Court, was a last-minute request for the state’s highest court to block Clark County’s mail ballot process. Carson City District Court Judge James Wilson on Monday issued an order flatly rejecting all of the requests to modify the county’s mail ballot processing plan as lacking standing to warrant last-minute judicial intervention in the state’s election process.

The order, signed by all seven members of the court, stated that the appeal failed to demonstrate a “sufficient likelihood of success to merit a stay or injunction” and that the request failed to identify any “mandatory statutory duty” or “manifest abuse of discretion” that would warrant judicial intervention at this point on Election Day.

“Appellants motion, on its face, does not identify any mandatory statutory duty that respondents appear to have ignored,” Justice Kristina Pickering wrote in the order. “Further, appellants fail to address the district court's conclusion that they lack standing to pursue this relief.”

The order did set an expedited briefing schedule, with the Trump campaign and state Republican Party given until Thursday to file a formal brief and the defendants given until Monday, Nov. 9, to file a response.

The appeal had asked the Supreme Court to order Clark County election officials to immediately cease use of an automatic signature verification machine and to stop all “duplication” of mail ballots, the process by which election workers copy a voter’s original ballot onto a new, blank ballot if their original ballot has an issue preventing it from being processed by a machine.

“If immediate action is not taken, Appellants will never have the opportunity to vindicate their rights,” attorneys for the two groups wrote in the filing. “More troubling, Nevadans – and the rest of the Country – will be left wondering whether the results of the election are legitimate.”

The appeal largely reiterates arguments that the Trump campaign and state Republican Party made in court last week in their challenge to Clark County’s mail election processing system, saying that it “creates a process ripe for error or abuse thereby diluting the votes of Nevadans outside Clark County.”

During an evidentiary hearing last week, the Republican attorneys said that Clark County election officials were not providing sufficient oversight or transparency in the observation process for the tabulation of mail votes. During the nearly nine-hour hearing, they produced several volunteer poll observers as witnesses, who raised speculative concerns with the county’s process including not being able to see all parts of a ballot processing room or having “runners” taking stacks of ballots into rooms where observers aren’t allowed.

But in his order denying their request, Judge Wilson wrote that the parties had failed to produce evidence of “any injury, direct or indirect, to themselves or any other person or organization” that would be necessary standing for an eleventh-hour judicial intervention in the election process.

Still, the request for the emergency stay reiterated many of those same arguments, including a request to stop the duplication process for mail ballots with any deficiencies. They suggested that the process could provide an opportunity for a “a careless or unscrupulous official to mark choices for any unfilled elections or questions on the ballot, potentially substantially affecting down ballot races where there are often significant undervotes.”

They also wrote that Clark County election officials would not be harmed by a brief stay as “it is their existing duty under law to allow for observation and properly count ballots.”

Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria said last week that if a court blocks use of the signature verification machine — which accepts about 30 percent of returned mail ballots automatically; the rest are hand-checked by elections department staff — the county would likely not be able to complete the tabulation and counting of ballots by the deadline set in state law.

In a statement, Nevada Republican Party Chair Michael McDonald said that the plaintiffs are “committed to a free and fair election which is why we are taking this fight to the Nevada Supreme Court.”

Pence promises that COVID vaccine is ‘weeks away,’ touts Trump’s economic chops during likely last campaign trip to Nevada

Vice President Mike Pence promised that a COVID-19 vaccine is “just a few weeks away” while rallying supporters in Reno on Thursday, making a likely final pitch to Nevada voters with the election just days away.

Vice President Pence's campaign rally and nearly 45-minute speech was held at a private hangar near the Reno Tahoe International Airport and is likely to be the last major top-of-the-ticket candidate appearance in Nevada for the 2020 presidential race.  

The trip also underlies the strategic importance of Reno and Washoe County in the view of both the Trump and Biden campaigns; Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris stopped in Reno on Tuesday.

Pence — who said the “road to victory goes right through Nevada — directly addressed Harris’s comments from her recent Nevada trip about measuring the success of an economy by the status of working people, rattling off statistics about increases in Nevada’s average median household income and average hourly earnings over the first three years of Trump’s presidency. He said that Trump’s track record on the economy spoke for itself.

“When it comes to this economy, it's a choice between a Trump boom and a Biden depression,” he said, deriding the former vice president  as “a career politician who spent 47 years in Washington DC, raising taxes, stifling the economy under an avalanche of regulations (and) waving a white flag of economic surrender on trade.”

Pence, who heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, also addressed the administration’s often-criticized response to the pandemic, touting the president’s decision to shut down travel to China in the early weeks of the pandemic and saying it “saved untold American lives.” 

Attendees wait for Vice President Mike Pence during a campaign stop at the Reno/Tahoe International Airport on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)

Referencing recent news that France and Germany were planning second nationwide shutdowns in response to the pandemic, the vice president said that a Biden administration would pursue another shutdown “right at the moment that the American economy is coming back.” He promised that the country was “just weeks away” from having millions of doses of a COVID vaccine ready to distribute, though most experts expect wide-spread development and distribution of a vaccine will likely come in early 2021.

“As we see cases rise here in the West and around the country as the winter approaches, people in Nevada can be confident,” he said. “We're gonna continue to move heaven and earth to make sure our doctors and nurses have all of the resources that they need to give anyone impacted by the coronavirus the level of care that we want a member of our family to have. I promise you that.”

Though Pence referenced the coronavirus sparingly — focusing most of his speech on the Trump administration’s economic accomplishments — the virus’s impact was nonetheless felt and seen through the facial coverings, reminders to distance and other safety precautions.

Prior to the event, event organizers had agreed to follow state rules on large gatherings, including six-foot social distancing of seats, a maximum capacity of 250 people and near-universal mask compliance. It proved a striking contrast to the president’s previous-day rally near the Nevada border in Bullhead City, Arizona, with tens of thousands in the crowd and many opting to not wear protective facial coverings.

The rally also came as Washoe County health officials met with the state earlier Thursday over the county’s alarming increase in COVID-19 testing and hospitalization trends over the past several weeks, including the setting of a one-day record of new cases on Thursday. Health leaders agreed shortly before the vice president’s speech to roll back capacity limits to a maximum of 50 people.

The capacity limits prompted a complaint from Nevada Republican Party Chair Michael McDonald, who spoke before the event to compare the president’s rally in Arizona on Wednesday to the socially distant, capacity-limited event.

“We have a broken leader in this Democratic state, leadership, governor whatever you want to call him, I feel bad for the way he's ruling us,” he said. “But look what he's done to us. We can fill this ten times over, right here. But, we’re sitting here, like this.”

Pence — who arrived at the event wearing a mask — focused his remarks on the administration’s economic accomplishments, including the replacement of NAFTA, the late 2017 tax cut bill and the recently released news of a 33.1 percent increase in the gross domestic product in the third quarter.

He also addressed domestic issues — promising that the Trump administration would never “defund the police” while criticizing Biden’s answers regarding police having “implicit bias” against minorities and that the county has a problem with systemic racism.

“We don't have to choose between supporting law enforcement and supporting our African American neighbors and friends and minorities and everyone that lives in our major cities,” he said. “We've done both for the last four years, and will keep doing both for four more years.”

The event is Pence’s second trip to the state in October, following a trip to Boulder City earlier this month.

At Carson City airport rally, Trump promises hard-hit Nevada an economic revival

President Donald Trump predicted that Nevada’s battered tourism industry would “come roaring back” under his leadership, warning that the lights of Las Vegas and Reno would be extinguished under a Joe Biden presidency and that Carson City, where he rallied supporters Sunday evening, would turn into a ghost town.

Trump, against a backdrop of blue skies, brown mountains and vintage airplanes at the Carson City airport, painted a rosy picture of Nevada’s economic future post-COVID even as experts in the state have projected the travel-dependent economy will continue to operate at only partial capacity for the next few years. The president cautioned that electing Biden would result in another lockdown that would further damage the economy in a state that already has the nation’s highest unemployment rate.

“If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression, instead of, we’re like a rocket ship, take a look at the numbers,” he said in an 80-minute speech.

Campaign and law enforcement officials estimated there were 13,000 people who turned out to the rally on a warm October day, which comes just a few weeks after Trump held similarly large rallies in Minden and in Henderson in violation of the state’s limits on public gatherings. Most rallygoers at the Sunday event did not wear masks.

His swing out west over the weekend included a visit to a Las Vegas church whose leaders have long been supportive of him and a fundraising stop in Newport Beach, California.

Trump said he was hopeful that next year “will be the greatest economic year in the history of our country,” unless Biden is elected. A Nevada fiscal analyst, however, last week said he is much more concerned about the state’s economy operating at 70 to 80 percent for the next three years — as fear about the safety of travel and large conventions persists — than he is about productivity being reduced to 20 to 30 percent for a few months because of government-ordered shutdowns.

Supporters attend a rally headlined by President Donald Trump in Carson City on Oct. 18, 2020. (Isaac Hoops /The Nevada Independent)

Unlike his previous rallies in the state, Trump infrequently touched on Nevada-specific themes during his address on Sunday, instead spending significant time talking about North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio and neighboring California — where a significant number of the rallygoers hailed from. 

He falsely asserted that he is leading in the polls in Nevada, when all recent public polls in the state have shown Biden ahead by between 6 and 11 percentage points — or the two candidates statistically tied. 

With 16 days until Election Day, Democrats have cast ballots at much higher rates than Republicans have in Nevada, though most of those have been mail-in ballots, which some Republicans are skeptical of because of the doubt Trump has sowed over the integrity of that process. He did not, however, repeat those claims about the mail-in voting system on Sunday.

Trump also made little mention of Gov. Steve Sisolak or the state’s limits on gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, he generally urged his supporters to “tell your governor to open up,” though it was not exactly clear to what extent Trump wants Nevada to open with casinos, restaurants and bars all back in business with capacity limits.

Surrogates who spoke ahead of the president did, however, take aim at the governor and new expanding mail-in voting. Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald told the audience that "they awoke a sleeping giant when they tried to steal your vote." 

Trump also asked former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is a co-chair of Trump’s Nevada campaign, if he and “Nick” — Nick Trutanich, U.S. attorney for the District of Nevada, and Laxalt’s former chief of staff — had found “any bad things” happening with the ballots. Though Laxalt no longer has any formal law enforcement role in the state, Trutanich announced on Friday that he had appointed a prosecutor to oversee election fraud and voting rights concerns.

“Can you please watch very closely, Adam?” Trump said. “He’s got the most important assignment there is because a lot of bad things, they’re finding those things in creeks, they’re finding them in riverbeds.”

In one instance in Wisconsin, mail, including several absentee ballots, were found in a ditch off of a highway — though there was no evidence of wrongdoing. Laxalt, meanwhile, has been stoking fear about voter fraud.

Supporters attend a rally headlined by President Donald Trump in Carson City on Oct. 18, 2020. (Isaac Hoops/The Nevada Independent)

In a nod to the state’s significant bloc of Hispanic voters, Trump riffed on how much he loves Hispanics. He highlighted his positions on abortion, support for school choice and support of Catholic schools, which he said are helping him reach high levels of approval among Hispanic voters. 

A recent poll from Equis Research shows he has about 26 percent support among Nevada Latinos. 

“Joe Biden would crush everything Hispanic Americans have worked for, wiping out your small businesses with lockdowns and regulations and devastating your families with massive tax hikes,” he said. 

He also harkened to Black Lives Matter protests in Nevada over the summer, saying that demonstrators “burned Reno.” After a demonstration in May, a group of people were seen smashing the windows of City Hall and starting a fire inside the building, although it was extinguished while it was still small.

“Joe Biden will appease the rioters, looters and anarchists, and I’m having them arrested,” Trump said.

Attendees who spoke with The Nevada Independent before the Sunday rally had mixed feelings about the president’s chance of winning. 

Virginia City resident Ben Carlson, 34, said the polls he’s seen have him worried, even though he generally doesn’t believe in polls after Trump defied expectations in 2016. Seventy-five-year-old Roy Boller — a fellow Virginia City resident who said he supports Trump because “he’s perfect, he’s perfect!” — is even more concerned about the outcome.

“We’re voting Trump, but we’re worried,” he said.

But Ali Hurlbert, 52, pointed to the large crowd in Nevada and in other rallies around the country as evidence of an enthusiasm gap.

“If it was an even playing field and we didn’t think there was any voter fraud, I think it would be a complete landslide and embarrassing for the left,” said Hurlbert, a second-grade teacher from Reno. “I think the emotion, the passion... We’re so different now, the right to the left that I think people can’t fathom going to the left, so I think the turnout’s going to be tremendous.”

Earlier in the day, Trump attended church at the International Church of Las Vegas in Southern Nevada where Pastor Denise Goulet prophesied that Trump would win his re-election campaign. Pastors similarly prophesied over and prayed for Trump at the church in October 2016.

“A second wind — if you add D — it’s the Holy Spirit,” Goulet said, “and the Lord showed me today, he showed me today that you were coming to get a second wind, another infilling of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit makes you able to finish, take this to the end, Mr. President.”

The visit was the president’s second trip to the state since securing the Republican presidential nomination. Biden and Vice President Mike Pence have each visited the state once this fall, while Democratic presidential nominee Kamala Harris has visited the state twice.

Ford threatens prosecution for voter intimidation after Trump’s debate comments; no major changes planned for poll-watching

Attorney General Aaron Ford says he is ready to prosecute anyone attempting voter intimidation in Nevada after President Donald Trump’s call during the debate this week to have his supporters “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”

Ford, a Democrat, said in an interview on Thursday that he considered the president’s comments to be a “dog whistle” encouraging voter intimidation, citing the president’s past comments suggesting that voters cast both mail and in-person ballots to test the system and his instruction for the right-wing extremist “Proud Boys” group to “stand back and stand by.”

“When I hear these types of dog whistles, I'm going to speak out, especially because I view it as an affront to personal history, including my parents and grandparents who faced these types of tactics in the past,” he said. “So I'm going to speak out, and I'm gonna do whatever I can to protect this franchise.”

During Tuesday’s presidential debate, Trump reiterated unproven claims about voter fraud and declined to commit to a peaceful transition of power after the November election, while calling on his supporters to head out to the polls to avoid a “fraudulent election.”

“I’m urging my supporters to go in to the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it,” Trump said during the debate, adding “I hope it’s going to be a fair election … but if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”

The president’s comments during the debate elicited a strong response from Ford, who said in a post on Twitter that “he wasn't talking about poll watching. He was talking about voter intimidation.”

“FYI — voter intimidation is illegal in Nevada,” he said in a tweet that as of Thursday morning had been shared more than 11,000 times. “Believe me when I say it: You do it, and you will be prosecuted.”

It’s typical and legal for political party volunteers, advocacy groups or members of the general public in Nevada to work as volunteer poll watchers during election periods. But Trump’s comments surrounding the upcoming November election have elicited concerns from voting rights advocates that his rhetoric could induce supporters toward intimidation at polling sites.

Nevada law since 1960 has prohibited “voter intimidation” with violations punishable by a Category E felony.

But the law also expressly allows members of the general public to “observe conduct of voting” at polling places, with certain rules and restrictions in place. Poll observers under law are not allowed to photograph or record the conduct of voting, unless they are working for a news organization, or are “acting solely within his or her professional capacity.”

State regulations also lay out additional requirements for poll observers. They’re required to sign an acknowledgement form agreeing to not talk to voters, use a mobile phone or computer, advocate for a candidate or political party, argue with any decisions by election personnel or otherwise interfere with the conduct of voting.

Observers are also required to wear a name tag, not display or disseminate material supporting or opposing a candidate, and are generally required to stay within a confined “observation” space that “must not be located in an area that would allow an observer to infringe on the privacy and confidentiality of the ballot of the voter.”

Ford said he wasn’t concerned with standard poll watchers.

“I have no issue with people who are going to follow those rules,” he said. “My contention is that what Donald Trump is calling for is something different, and I'm not going to stand for it.”

The attorney general added that his office did not plan to station officers outside of polling places or take other kinds of proactive steps to deter potential voter intimidation, saying the mere presence of law enforcement could intimidate some voters from casting a ballot. He said his office does not plan to file any requests to change election security regulations, and was confident that state and local election officials will “uphold the responsibilities of their duties with integrity.”

Instead, his office plans to work with the state’s Election Integrity Task Force, a state and federal joint task force composed of law enforcement bodies and the secretary of state’s office that responds to any potential election law violations.

Still, Ford’s comments on Twitter drew a sharp rebuke from the state’s Republican Party. Chairman Michael McDonald said in a statement that the state party was planning to have a “robust poll watching program” in place.

Former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican and state co-chair of the Trump campaign, called Ford’s comments “bizarre” in an email to the Associated Press and said it was unclear why “Ford is attempting to intimidate this time honored legal and traditional avenue to help give the public more confidence in our elections at a time when election confidence is so low.”

A spokesman for the Clark County Registrar of Voters said Thursday that other than requiring masks and social distancing, the county did not plan any changes for its poll-watching process.

But Washoe County Registrar of Voters Deanna Spikula said Thursday that her office was not planning any major changes to the county’s poll-watching program, outside of requiring social distancing and following capacity requirements in line with the state’s COVID-19 response plan. She said county election officials were working with the two major political parties to ensure volunteers from both parties are working on a similar schedule.

“We really like having them out and about,” she said. “And if there is an issue, they can contact us quickly and we can resolve it quickly, instead of becoming something that we didn't know about for six or seven hours and then all of a sudden it's a big deal.”

Updated at 3:49 p.m. to add additional information about Clark County's poll-watching process.

Trump sows doubt on election integrity with false assertions at Douglas County rally amid coronavirus pandemic

President Donald Trump sought to undermine confidence in the electoral process in Nevada during a rally in Minden Saturday evening, falsely telling a packed crowd of supporters that Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak controls millions of votes, that mail-in ballots can be accepted without signatures and that Republicans likely wouldn’t be sent mail-in ballots but dogs and dead people would.

Trump, in an hour-and-a-half-long speech at the Minden-Tahoe Airport, positioned himself as an oppositional force to Sisolak, the state’s moderate first-term Democratic governor, by painting him with the broad brush of national, and far more liberal, Democrats, incorrectly suggesting that Sisolak had sympathized with rioters and voiced support for defunding the police. Trump also asserted that Sisolak had personally called different venues trying to prevent them from hosting Trump’s rally, a suggestion the governor’s office flatly denied.

Thousands of the president’s supporters, some from Nevada and others from out of state, gathered to hear Trump speak at the airport in defiance of a state coronavirus directive limiting public gatherings both indoors and outdoors to 50 people. While some rallygoers wore masks, the vast majority did not, with others wearing masks and gaiters around their chins and necks.

The crowd at President Donald Trump’s campaign rally at the Minden-Tahoe Airport on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)

The event was also attended by congressional candidate and former Assemblyman Jim Marchant, Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, Senate Republican Leader James Settelmeyer, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler and former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who Trump preemptively endorsed Saturday evening for governor, should Laxalt decide to run again in two years after losing to Sisolak last cycle.

Trump kicked off his rally by blaming Sisolak for the last-minute change of venue from Reno to Minden, which happened after officials at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport informed the company that leased the hangar where the rally was originally slated to be held that the event would violate the state’s emergency coronavirus directive and could not proceed. The president, however, said that Sisolak was responsible and had “tried very hard to stop us from having this event tonight.”

“Here’s a guy calling venues telling them not to have the rally, calling different venues, ‘Don’t have the rally. We’re not going to let you have the rally,’” Trump said.

The governor’s office said earlier this week that it had “no involvement or communication with the event organizers or potential hosts” regarding the Trump campaign events and a spokeswoman for the governor tweeted Saturday night that the governor’s office did not call different venues telling them not to host Trump’s rally.

According to the Record-Courier, Douglas County spokeswoman Melissa Blosser “said that after careful consideration and weighing the authority of state directives versus 1st amendment rights, the county ultimately decided to welcome the sitting President of the United States to our community.”

The president additionally suggested during the rally that Sisolak had permitted riots to occur in both Las Vegas and Reno in defiance of the state’s health and safety mandates on COVID-19, when the governor, in fact, told rioters to “get the hell out of town.” Trump also exaggerated the extent to which rioters had caused damage amid a series of protests against police brutality this summer.

“They can burn the hell out of the Strip. They can burn the hell out of Reno,” Trump said. “They can do whatever the hell they want if it’s a riot.”

While rioters did set fire to the City Hall in Reno, no portion of the Las Vegas Strip was ever set on fire. Three men were charged with setting a police vehicle on fire during a protest in downtown Las Vegas.

Trump also said that Las Vegas Metro Police Officer Shay Mikalonis, 29, was shot and paralyzed during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in June by a “vicious criminal left, it was a left person, a left, he was a real left all right.” However, the suspect told detectives during an interview that he “had fired a shot” but “was just trying to scare the protesters into leaving and did not even know police were there.”

The crowd at President Donald Trump’s campaign rally at the Minden-Tahoe Airport on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)

Trump told his supporters that if asked they should refer to the campaign rally as a “friendly protest” to avoid being penalized under the state’s limit on gatherings. He additionally suggested that Nevada is under a “heavy lockdown,” though in-person dining, movie theaters, gyms, salons, casinos and churches are all allowed to be open with capacity restrictions.

The president went on to cast doubt on the integrity of the upcoming presidential election in Nevada and across the nation, suggesting that mail-in ballots would be sent only to “Democrat areas” and not Republican ones. In Nevada, ballots will be mailed out statewide to all active registered voters, including Republicans, Democrats, nonpartisans and those registered with other political parties.

The president drew a direct line between the distrust he suggested that his supporters should have for Sisolak after his campaign had to change the rally venue and distrust in the electoral process. Trump said, without evidence, that Sisolak controls “millions of votes,” though it is the Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske charged with overseeing the election in Nevada and there are only about 1.7 million active registered voters in the state.

“This governor, who’s a political hack, he was a political hack and then he became governor, and this is the guy we’re entrusting with millions of ballots, unsolicited ballots, millions and millions and then we’re supposed to win these states,” Trump said.

Trump laid groundwork to call the results of the election in Nevada and elsewhere into question by saying that there was no possibility that he was tied with former Vice President Joe Biden. The most recent presidential poll of voters in the Silver State, a New York Times/Siena College survey released Saturday, showed Biden 4 points ahead of Trump but within the margin of error, a statistical tie.

“And then you read these fake reporters and they say, ‘President Trump is tied in Nevada.’ Tied. I don’t think so,” Trump said. “The only way we’re tied is if they screw around with the ballots, which they will do in my opinion. Okay? We’re not tied anywhere.”

Trump also falsely said that ballots in Nevada don’t need to have a valid signature, when in reality mail-in ballots will be rejected if the signature on it does not match the voter’s signature in their voter file. About 6,700 ballots were not counted in Nevada’s mostly mail-in primary election in June because officials could not match the signatures on the ballots.

“You don’t have to have an authorized signature on a ballot? No. They’re trying to rig an election and we can’t let that happen,” Trump said. “I hope you’re all going to be poll watchers, I hope you are.”

Trump warned his supporters about ballots being mailed to dead people and dogs. While ballots are often sent to dead people, studies show that dead voters are possible but rare; and while pets have been accidentally sent voter registration forms by third-party groups, registering dogs to vote is a felony. The president additionally posed to his supporters a scenario in which a postal worker takes thousands of ballots and hands them to “some Democrat political operative,” which would also be a crime.

Trump said that the “good news” is that his campaign is “in front of a court” challenging Nevada’s newly approved mail-in voting law “and hopefully the court is going to rule because this is the greatest scam in the history of presidential politics.” However, Trump’s campaign actually moved to narrow the scope of its lawsuit earlier this week and is now only challenging a provision allowing ballots received up to three days after the election to be counted if their postmarks are unclear.

The president positioned himself as the best candidate to “bring prosperity to Nevada” and the rest of the country following economic devastation resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Nevada’s unemployment rate hit 3.6 percent in January, the lowest rate dating back to 1976, when modern record keeping began, before hitting a new record high this spring as the coronavirus pandemic sent unemployment sky high

“But under my administration, before the virus, we quickly achieved the lowest unemployment rate in the history of Nevada and we’ll soon have it back again,” Trump said.

Trump will be in Las Vegas on Sunday for a full day of campaign events, including a morning Latinos for Trump roundtable at Treasure Island Hotel and Casino, a fundraiser, and an evening rally at Xtreme Manufacturing in Henderson.

Tabitha Mueller contributed to this report.