Nevada’s Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske says she’s absolutely running for reelection in 2018, but which Democrats jump in for a chance to be the top elections official in the state still has yet to shake out.
Democrats who say they’re considering the race include Reno City Councilman Oscar Delgado, Assemblyman Nelson Araujo and state Sen. Pat Spearman. While none have officially announced, they’d be up against an incumbent who’s held office for more than two decades — including 18 years in the Senate and Assembly.
“I have a great team. I love what I do. I enjoy my job and that’s why I’m running again,” Cegavske told The Nevada Independent on Friday. “I think we’ve got a lot of things we want to finish.”
She also addressed her health — she was diagnosed with breast cancer early in her first term as secretary of state and took a week off work for radiation treatments.
“I’m proud to say a couple months ago I had my two-year checkup and I’m two years cancer free,” she said. “I’m very, very excited. I feel great.”
The secretary of state’s office has a range of duties, such as enforcing state securities laws, issuing business licenses and overseeing notaries public. But its most prominent role is serving as the state’s chief elections officer.
Cegavske made headlines this spring when she announced that she had evidence of at least three non-citizens voting in the 2016 election and questioned the DMV’s practices for registering voters. To date, however, the investigation remains ongoing and Cegavske has declined to offer further details on the circumstances of the votes.
She’s also been a supporter of voter ID laws, arguing that it’s not too much to ask for people to bring identification to the polls. Such legislation failed to pass in the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2015 and didn’t get a hearing in the Democrat-controlled Legislature of 2017; she didn’t make any commitments to use her bills next session to introduce such a concept.
Instead, she pointed to some less-controversial projects underway in her office, including an overhaul of the SOS computer system that handles business licensing. Her office is also working with clerks on an $8 million contract to replace old voting machines — an expenditure approved late in the legislative session.
Candidate filing doesn’t take place until March 2018. Asked about Delgado and Araujo mulling a bid, Cegavske said she planned to run a positive race.
“They’re both very nice gentlemen,” she said. “It’s up to the voters to put in who they think is the best person. It doesn’t belong to me.”
The Democratic field
Among Democrats, Delgado has been perhaps the most public in his exploration of the race. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported he scheduled a joint fundraiser with Mayor Hillary Schieve this week — something that would be unusual if he was only running for council since his term lasts until 2020.
Delgado has served on the council since 2012 and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Reno’s school of social work.
“I've been approached about running for Secretary of State, and it's an honor to be mentioned in those types of discussions, but I haven't made a decision regarding any future races,” Delgado said in an email to The Nevada Independent. “The Office of Secretary of State can do so much to improve the lives of everyday Nevadans, and that is very exciting to me, but I'm also happy and content in the position I have now.”
He said he’s become very involved in Reno economic development efforts over the past five years on the council and wants to ensure the state remains business-friendly. He also said he hopes the secretary of state’s office will do more in the future to reduce barriers that keep people from participating in elections.
“I can tell you that having grown up a first-generation American, voting rights are something I've come to see as very precious,” he said.
Another possible contender is Assemblyman Nelson Araujo, who was elected to the Legislature in 2014 and was selected as Nevada’s Democratic National Committeeman last year.
“Right now I’m focusing on assessing the entire landscape from top down,” he told the Independent at a legislative town hall event on Saturday. “I quite frankly have not made any decision. I’m assessing all options out there.”
Araujo said he’s been approached about running and has also communicated with Delgado about the race. Asked about what he think needs to change, he pointed to mixed results from the past session on the electoral front: lawmakers weren’t able to expand early voting hours, for example, and a bill to authorize voting centers failed even though the concept is being implemented in Clark County.
“We have a lot of opportunity that we haven’t tapped into,” he said. “It’s imperative that we have someone who’s truly going to take that seat and galvanize on the opportunity to make Nevada a premier state when it comes to increasing access to eligible voters, and also making sure we remain a business-friendly state like we’ve been for so long.”
The third prominent Democrat mulling the race is state Sen. Pat Spearman, an Army veteran and former pastor who was elected in 2012.
“I am considering all the options, and this may sound hokey, but I’m in prayer right now,” she said in an interview on Sunday. “Whatever decision I make, I want it to be the right one for my family, and I want it to be the right one for the citizens of Nevada … obviously I need to make sure that the support is there.”
She’s sponsored legislation to expand voting access, including a measure that seeks to ease voting for overseas military personnel and was signed by the governor.
“People literally died to secure the right to vote,” she said. “I think the right to vote is sacred and I don’t think there should be any schemes developed by anybody to limit that right.”