Nevada Republicans score an early victory in special election

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May 23, 2011

by Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Carson City, NEVADA: In interpreting the rules for Nevada's upcoming special election to fill the U.S. House seat most recently held by Dean Heller, newly elevated to the Senate after John Ensign's resignation, the Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller has been overruled.[1]

Miller read the statute to allow a “free-for-all”, where any candidate who properly filed his petition could run under the party line of his choosing. Had that ruling been enforced, it would have meant a harder primary season for the Republicans, where 2010 losing Congressional Candidate Sharon Angle is already an declared candidate. Fears of a split vote led the Nevada GOP to file an injunction within days of Miller's May 2nd decision, asking that only one candidate from each party be allowed on the ballot.[2]

Last Thursday, the Nevada Supreme Court sided with the Republicans. With the election set for September 13, 2011, District Judge Todd Russell held that both the Democrats and the Republicans have time for a nominating process and a convention. In part, his comments on the matter read, “This is an unreasonable and absurd result; and results in unfair treatment”.[3] He also granted a injunction to block the filing period that was to have begun today, instead giving parties until June 30, 2011 to sort out how they will choose a candidate.[4]

Russell immediately said he was himself sure his decision would be appealed. Silver State Democrats, who would be the ones appealing, seem to agree.[5]

The law governing a special election for a Congressional seat was written but never tested, with opinions on its applications all over the place and a few arguments that the Secretary should have been able to use his own discretion. What was clear was that the statute specifically forbade a primary; it did not, however, have anything to say about other methods of nominating candidates, such as convention and caucuses.[6]

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