Federal Judge Refuses to Block Nevada Mail-In Primary

A lone worker wearing a mask cleans a pedestrian walkway devoid of the usual crowds in Las Vegas on April 18. (AP Photo/John Locher)

RENO, Nev. (CN) — A federal judge on Thursday refused to halt a plan to conduct Nevada’s June 9 primary election chiefly by mail in light of the coronavirus pandemic, turning aside a claim that the process will ignite voter fraud.

Chief U.S. District Judge Miranda Du rejected an injunction sought by three voters represented by True the Vote, a conservative group that bills itself as an organization for voters’ rights and election integrity.

In a 24-page order, Du concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert their claims and that Nevada’s interests in implementing the plan far outweigh the burdens placed on plaintiffs’ right to vote.

The three plaintiffs sued Nevada’s top election official, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, who announced the election plan on March 24 because of the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic.

The plan calls for the vast majority of active registered voters to cast ballots by mail. Active registered voters automatically will receive an absentee ballot in the mail. Registered voters classified as inactive must request an absentee ballot. Absentee ballots must be dropped off at designated locations by the close of polls or postmarked by Election Day.

It’s not mail-only voting, however; an in-person polling place will be available in each of Nevada’s 17 counties.

The plaintiffs argued that the plan would all but ensure an election replete with fraud.

The plan violates the plaintiffs’ right to vote by “diluting their votes with illegal votes given the removal of safeguards against illegal voting established by the Legislature,” the complaint states, noting one such safeguard requires a voter to request an absentee ballot.

The complaint also argued that the plan unconstitutionally replaces the Legislature’s chosen manner of conducting elections.

The judge found that the plaintiffs’ predominant claim of voter fraud lacks any factual basis.

Plaintiffs “cannot demonstrate a burden upon their voting rights, only an imposition upon their preference for in-person voting—as opposed to mail-in voting,” she wrote.

In addition, plaintiffs’ “overarching theory that having widespread mail-in votes makes the Nevada election more susceptible to voter fraud seems unlikely where the plan essentially maintains the material safeguards to preserve election integrity,” the judge ruled.

The secretary of state implemented the plan to protect the health and safety of Nevada’s voters and to safeguard the voting franchise, the judge wrote, describing them as “indisputably compelling and longstanding interests.”

If the plan is not implemented, “voters worried about risks to their health or unsure about how to obtain an absentee ballot may very well be discouraged from exercising the right to vote all together,” the judge concluded.

Another suit challenging the election plan is pending in state court in Carson City. In that complaint, Democratic Party officials and other plaintiffs don’t object to the expansion of vote by mail because of the health crisis but they say it must be paired with meaningful opportunities to vote safely in person.

The complaint targets a Nevada law that bans a person from helping a voter return a mail ballot unless the person is related to the voter.

If left in place, the ban “will effectively disenfranchise countless Nevada voters, including voters with limited mobility and voters who live in communities where accessing the mail system is difficult,” the complaint states. “These voters will be forced to put themselves and others at risk to personally ensure that their ballot reaches election officials in time to be counted.”

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