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Recall Efforts Could Shift Balance of Power in Nevada Senate

An effort to recall three state Senators from Las Vegas, two Democrats as well as a Republican-turned-independent, could swing the balance of power in the Nevada legislature. Reno Public Radio's Paul Boger spoke to Michelle Rindels -- a reporter with the Nevada Independent -- to get the latest on the petitions.

Can you give us a little background on the petition process itself? How does it work, and how do you actually recall an elected officials in Northern Nevada?

What they’re trying to do is get signatures from at least 25 percent of the voters who participated in the election that the person actually was elected in. Two of these Senators were elected in 2016 and one was elected in 2016. Those were very different years. 204 had very low voter turnout.

Basically, they’re trying to gather these petitions. They have people walking the districts with a petition and a short description of why they’re trying to recall this person, and they 90 days from the date the petition was filed to gather all of these signatures. At that point, the petitions would be turned in and the signatures themselves would have to be verified. You have to get signatures from people who actually participated in the election, and it has to be people who live in the district. It can’t be people who are just general Nevadans.

Why target these senators in particular?

It appears to be a strategic play because these are senators that live in swing districts and it could potentially be winnable for Republicans. They’re looking at another term of Democratic control, this basically is a route to flipping three seats and having the upper hand in the next legislative session. They’ll have the incumbent advantage and then they’ll also drain the resources of the Democrats.

So what options do Democrats have at this point other than hoping Republicans don’t get enough signatures on these petitions?

There’s a couple of ways they can fight back. They’ve been running a decline to sign campaign trying to educate people in the district to not sign the petition.

The second thing, even if they do turn in a sufficient number of signatures, there’s a good chance that a lot of those wouldn’t qualify for various reasons.

The third thing that we’re seeing is an actual attempt to get the state, basically, to not carry out the process of the recall – stopping it at some middle point. That’s what we saw with a federal lawsuit basically being filed against the Secretary of State and the Clark County Registrar of Voters. It’s seeking an injunction that would just halt the process, prevent them from processing the recall signatures.

On what grounds?

There are three points that this lawsuit is making. One is that the state is balancing the interest of the state itself and burden that a special election would put onto voters. So they’re saying does the state really have an interest in getting these people out if there’s not maybe an issue of character, an issue morality that’s prompting the recalls. By contrast, you’ve got a recall that would in some ways inconvenience voters rather than just voting all in one fell swoop in a regular election, they’re having to vote for just one race. They’re having to perhaps miss work, spend time researching, find transportation to a voting place or find child care. They’re arguing that it’s a greater inconvenience to voters and there’s really not a balancing interest from the state to do this.

The second grounds is that it basically undermines the democratic system by shortening the length of people’s term. Lawyers are arguing is that a bedrock of the American Republican system is that people have a set term and this is creating a system where people don’t really ever serve out a full term. They’re cut-off in their term every time and they’re always in a state of defending themselves against the recall.

The third ground is the Voting Rights Act claim. They’re saying that these types of special elections and recalls disproportionately harm minority voters and they don’t have to prove that the recall backers intended to specifically voters or dampen turnout. What they have to do is that the effect is actually causing lower minority turnout systemically.

So they think that they can demonstrate that by showing special elections that minority turnout drops disproportionately compared to white voter turnout. 

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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