(Thomas Mitchell/4thSt8) – No matter how much a passel of salivating Democrats and their lapdog pundits may wish it, Secretary of State Ross Miller should not be able to wave his magic pen and make the major political parties disappear while preserving the minor ones.
The state Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in the case of Nevada State Democratic Party v. Nevada Republican Party. Some of the questions from the bench to the attorneys for both sides were almost verbatim from the issues outlined on the court’s Website:
“Should this court defer to the Secretary of State, as Nevada’s chief elections officer, in the interpretation of this state’s election statutes?”
That certainly is one possible outcome.
But the better question also was outlined:
“Does the Secretary of State’s interpretation of NRS 304.240(1) unconstitutionally burden the Republican Party’s First Amendment free association rights by forcing the party to associate with individuals it may not necessarily agree with politically or by causing voter confusion over whether the party is officially endorsing a candidate on the special election ballot who designates himself or herself as a Republican?”
The major political parties, despite crawling in bed with the state and having he taxpayers conduct their primaries for them, are not mere extensions of or wards of the state. They are separate, private entities free to conduct their own business as their rules apply and nominate their own candidates.
The strategy in a free-for-all election, in which the Democrats and the Republicans neither designate a standard-bearer, is that many Republican aspirants could split their party’s vote and allow a single Democrat to grab the office on the basis of a small plurality.
In his District Court ruling, which is now on appeal, Judge James Todd Russell spelled out just how contorted and convoluted Miller’s interpretation of the law was when he declared a free-for-all ballot for the special election to fill the 2nd Congressional District seat vacated by the appointment of Dean Heller to the Senate.
This is the law on which Miller based his decision:
“NRS 304.240 Issuance by Governor of election proclamation precludes holding of primary election; nomination of candidates; placement of names of candidates on ballot; conduct of election; application of general election laws; exception.
“1. If the Governor issues an election proclamation calling for a special election pursuant to NRS 304.230, no primary election may be held. Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, a candidate must be nominated in the manner provided in chapter 293 of NRS and must file a declaration or acceptance of candidacy within the time prescribed by the Secretary of State pursuant to NRS 293.204, which must be established to allow a sufficient amount of time for the mailing of election ballots. A candidate of a major political party is nominated by filing a declaration or acceptance of candidacy within the time prescribed by the Secretary of State pursuant to NRS 293.204. A minor political party that wishes to place its candidates on the ballot must file a list of its candidates with the Secretary of State not more than 46 days before the special election and not less than 32 days before the special election. To have his or her name appear on the ballot, an independent candidate must file a petition of candidacy with the appropriate filing officer not more than 46 days before the special election and not less than 32 days before the special election.
“2. Except as otherwise provided in NRS 304.200 to 304.250, inclusive:
“(a) The election must be conducted pursuant to the provisions of chapter 293 of NRS.
“(b) The general election laws of this State apply to the election.” (Bold-faced text added.)
Miller relied entirely on the second bold-faced portion of the text and ignored the reference to NRS 293, which states that a vacancy in a major or minor political party nomination “may be filled by a candidate designated by the party central committee.”
As Judge Russell noted, the plain language test rests on the definition of “nomination,” which most certainly does not include self-designation by any or every person registered as a member of the party.
The court may well bow to the authority of Miller to write the election rules no matter how absurd. If so, the law is a meaningless jumble of words and the executive is all-powerful.
Miller may say that is the more democratic way to go, but means it is the more Democratic way to go.
(Thomas Mitchell is the former editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal for more than two decades. You may share your views with him via email at email@example.com or comment on his blog postings at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.)