Two Lawsuits Challenge Nevada Voting

     LAS VEGAS (CN) - Two federal lawsuits challenging the way Nevada manages its voting processes were filed on the eve of the state's primary.
     Civil rights groups claim the state violates the National Voter Registration Act by not helping low-income voters register to participate.
     In the second complaint, voters challenged Nevada's unique rule allowing for a "none-of-the-above" vote.
     Nevada reported a turnout of about 20 percent of registered voters for its Tuesday primary.
     In the first lawsuit, the National Council of La Raza and Las Vegas and Reno-Sparks branches of the NAACP claim Secretary of State Ross Miller and the state's director of Health and Human Services fail to offer voting assistance at public assistance offices, as required by the National Voter Registration Act.
     The law requires all public assistance offices to provide a form asking clients if they want to register to vote, and information about the registration process. The office is also supposed to help voters fill out the applications and accept them.
     But election officials have failed to do so, the groups say.
     "Nevada's failure to comply ... excludes from the political participation many of the state's most vulnerable citizens, citizens on whose well-being the state's policy decisions have an especially acute impact," the complaint states. "Thousands of low-income citizens have been disenfranchised in Nevada. ...
     "Nevada's ineffectual public assistance voter registration program is the result of years of neglect."
     The number of voter registration applications through public assistance agencies dropped from 39,444 in 2001-2002 to 1,677 for 2009-2010, according to the complaint - a drop of 96 percent.
     "Nevada's own figures indicate that the state registered only 1/20th as many voters through public assistance agencies in 2009-10 as it did eight years earlier," the complaint states.
     "This drop is particularly striking for several reasons. First, Nevada's population has increased dramatically over that period; the 2010 Census showed population growth of approximately 35 percent since 2000.
     "Second, the size of the population on public assistance has increased even more substantially."
     Plaintiffs want a plan in place to provide recipients of public services be in place by the Oct. 6 deadline to register to vote.
     "Simply stated, plaintiffs ask this court to order defendants to meet their federally required responsibilities to provide low-income Nevada citizens so that they can exercise one of their most fundamental rights and participate in our democratic system."
     In the second lawsuit, Republicans, Democrats, and independents, including a former locally elected official, challenge a Nevada state law that requires officials "to disregard legally cast votes from properly registered and duly qualified voters, even if those votes constitute a plurality or majority in the election."
     The voters claim that Nevada is the only state in the nation that requires election officials to provide a ballot in each statewide and presidential race to allow a voter to affirmatively cast his vote for "None of these candidates."
     But state law also requires election officials to ignore such votes in determining the outcome of those elections, "thereby disenfranchising the voters who cast them," according to the complaint.
     "Even if a plurality or majority of the electorate were to vote for 'None of these candidates,' that result would be ignored, and a losing candidate - the one with the next-highest number of votes - would be declared the winner (rather than declaring a vacancy in the office or conducting a new election, perhaps with different candidates)," the complaint states.
     Plaintiffs say the "scheme threatens to disenfranchise voters" in the Nov. 6 election for president and Senate.
     "Having affirmatively placed 'None of these candidates' on the ballot and invited voters to cast their vote for it, the state is not free to treat those votes as nullities and disregard them," according to the complaint.
     Plaintiffs include former Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury and James DeGraffenreid, secretary of the state Republican Party.
     They want the entire statute invalidated.
     The National Council of La Raza is respresented by W. Chris Wicker with Woodburn and Wedge.
     The voters are represented by Paul Prior with Snell & Wilmer.