GOP wins round one in challenge to open congressional election

Carson District Judge Todd Russell Thursday put the Republican Party back in charge of who runs under their banner for Dean Heller's congressional seat.

Ruling from the bench, he rejected Secretary of State Ross Miller's "election royale" plan allowing any and all members of the two major parties to run in the race.

Russell also called off the three-day filing period set May 23-25 by Miller, giving the major parties until June 30 to name their candidates.

The GOP sued arguing that Miller's decision illegally sidesteps the major party's nominating process, giving the party no say in the Sept. 13 election.

Republicans were concerned that, with several candidates already announced, the Republican vote could be so splintered that a Democrat could win in the district which has never seen anything but a Republican victor.

Miller's counsel and the Democratic Party argued the law setting up the special election was clear, stating that candidates for the two major parties, "appear on the ballot by filing a declaration of candidacy or acceptance."

GOP lawyers argued that ignores the long standing election law which gives the major parties the power to select their nominees.

Russell said the different statutes must be read together.

He said to him, an individual becomes a major party candidate by being chosen through the normal party process, that the statute "sets out how the candidates get on the ballot by declaring their candidacy after nomination."

He said Miller's election plan "would eliminate major parties from the process." Russell also objected to the fact Miller's plan would allow any number of major party candidates to file, yet limit both minor party candidates - who would be chosen by their party executive committees - and independent candidates - who must get 100 voters to sign petitions putting them on the ballot.

"Why are these people being treated differently," he asked suggesting that raises constitutional issues argued by the GOP.

"I'm also troubled by the fact the Secretary of State is picking and choosing from among the statutes," Russell said.

While Republican lawyer David O'Mara argued that many candidates could be very confusing to voters, Deputy Attorney General Kevin Benson said he doesn't buy that logic. He said when Gray Davis was recalled as California governor, there were 135 people on the ballot.

"And Arnold Schwartzenegger won. I don't think you want to go there," said Russell, drawing laughter from the crowded courtroom.

O'Mara argued the state's general election laws must be applied to the special election and that, when that is done, the major parties have the right to nominate their candidate for the election. While Miller billed his plan as taking the process out of the hands of a few powerful party leaders, O'Mara rejected that.

"The notion that it's going to be this smoke-filled room is disingenuous," he said.

He conceded, however, that the decision could be made by as few as the 17 county GOP central committee chairs.

Co-counsel Rew Goodenow charged that Miller's plan abused his discretion, taking away "the right of a major political party to chose their nominee."

Democratic lawyer Marc Elias said nothing in Miller's plan takes that right, that even with several Republicans on the ballot, the GOP still could nominate one candidate and urge all party members to vote for that person.

Benson said after the ruling it's "very likely" the decision will be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.


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