CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday rejected a request by the secretary of state for emergency powers to oversee the newly authorized third-party collection of election ballots, calling her request an attempt to “use the emergency regulation process for what appears to be political reasons.”
The Democratic governor’s rebuff of Barbara Cegavske, the only Republican in statewide office, reflects partisan divides over voting rights and ballot access now playing out across the country ahead of the November election.
Democrats in multiple states and nationally have pushed measures they deem essential to a fair vote and robust turnout amid the COVID-19 pandemic, such as expanded voting by mail. Republicans in turn from President Donald Trump down have labeled and attacked such moves as openings to vote fraud.
The state-level disagreement comes over a voting bill passed during the Legislature’s second special session that authorizes ballot collecting for the November election. The bill also expanded vote-by-mail and passed on the strength of Democratic majorities in both the Assembly and Senate. The Trump campaign and national and state Republicans have sued to block the changes.
Cegavske, whose office serves as the state’s chief election watchdog, last week asked Sisolak for an emergency rule to require anyone who gathers 10 or more ballots to report to her office and disclose any political, corporate or advocacy group affiliation. She said the information was necessary to “investigate and stop illegal activity associated with ballot harvesting.”
Ballot collecting — more insidiously called “harvesting” by opponents, with allusions to ballot-box stuffing — was outlawed in Nevada in 1993 and, before this summer’s change, was a felony under state law. That was changed in 1999 to allow family members to return a ballot on behalf of relatives.
Though Cegavske’s letter to the governor focused on ballot integrity, her announcement of the move to media struck a more partisan tone, and Sisolak was caustic in his reply. He said Cegavske had failed to identify an emergency that warranted regulation and had cited, without evidence, only nonspecific hypothetical experiences of “bad actors in other states.” He cited practical and procedural roadblocks to her request and said he was “disappointed” by the move.
“If you were truly interested in identifying and instituting safeguards for Nevada’s voter assistance laws, you could have worked with my administration directly — as we have on other projects since I took office — instead of announcing the request through the media,” he wrote in response.
This article was updated to correct that the new voting procedures were passed in the Legislature’s second special session.