After judge denies GOP request to block presidential primary, party appeals to Nevada Supreme Court
The Nevada Republican Party filed an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court on Wednesday seeking to block the state from holding a presidential primary election next year after a Carson City judge denied the party’s case in District Court, court filings obtained by The Nevada Independent show.
The Nevada GOP’s efforts to block the Republican primary come as the party plans to conduct a caucus on Feb. 8 — two days after the state-run primaries — to allocate the state’s presidential delegates.
In 2021, a bipartisan group of Nevada lawmakers approved a law shifting the state’s presidential nominating system from a caucus model, now used in only a few states, to a primary model that is run by state and local election officials instead of the major parties and that follows state election laws, such as universal mail voting.
But Nevada Republicans have resisted the change, seeking this year to block the law and pledging to maintain the caucus system from past election cycles. Republican National Committeewoman Sigal Chattah, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Nevada GOP, said in an interview Thursday that “taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for a primary that is completely irrelevant.”
To learn more about the presidential primaries and the Nevada Republican Party’s plans for the 2024 presidential caucus, read here.
During a hearing last month, Carson City District Court Judge James Russell was unswayed by Chattah’s arguments. He denied the lawsuit, saying he did not think the Nevada GOP would suffer “any irreparable harm” as a result of the primary because the election is “non-binding,” meaning the party is not bound to award delegates based on the results of the primary.
Chattah argued that because all sides, including the state, have acknowledged the primary is non-binding, there is no point in moving forward with the primary.
The state law passed in 2021 stipulates, “a presidential preference primary election must be held for all major political parties on the first Tuesday in February of each presidential election year,” unless there is only one or no qualified candidate for that party.
In response to a reporter reading the law, Chattah said Thursday, “then we get into statutory interpretation.”
During the hearing, Russell said through his research of similar cases he found no examples to support the Nevada GOP’s arguments.
“I'm just astounded because we did research … and we found nothing to support your position,” Russell said. “I just want some authority, so I can see if we can help you, but I don't think — we couldn't find any authority to help you.”
Russell also acknowledged that there could be some confusion generated by the process of having both a primary and a caucus for the same set of voters. However, he said he thinks “that's far outweighed by the generation of interest in the primary as a whole.” He framed the primary as a way of allowing voters to voice their preference, even if the result is not binding.
“Doesn't that at least give the caucus some indication of basically what the voters in that state want?” he asked Chattah.
It will likely be at least several weeks before the case moves fully through the appeal process.
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit at the Supreme Court, the party is separately seeking to restrict candidates from participating in the primary. Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald confirmed to The Nevada Independent on Thursday that candidates who file to run in the primary will be barred from participating in the caucus, meaning they would be ineligible to win delegates at the national convention later in the year.
If two or more candidates file to run in the primary, the state will still be required to conduct the election.
McDonald also said the party is charging a “ballot access fee” of $55,000 for candidates to run in the caucus, though they can get a discount of $20,000 if they participate in a joint event with the state party, such as a fundraiser. Beyond that, the party will play a role in educating its voters about which election will determine the allocation of delegates.