A Clark County District Court judge has denied a request from Republican congressional candidate Jim Marchant for a re-vote in his failed bid against Democratic incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford.
District Court Judge Gloria Sturman issued the ruling from the bench on Friday after a roughly two-and-a-half-hour hearing, declining to order the extraordinary request filed by Marchant for a new election in Clark County amid various claims of potential voter fraud. Marchant lost his race to Horsford by about 16,100 votes, or about 5 percentage points.
Though Marchant’s attorney, Craig Mueller, said he would be comfortable pairing the request for a new election with either a later evidentiary hearing or the transferring of computer records related to mail ballots, Sturman said she was not comfortable issuing such an order both because of jurisdictional concerns — Nevada state law has a separate process for the filing of election contest suits — and because of the basic geography of the congressional district, which spans seven counties.
“This isn't the right venue,” she said. “This court does not have jurisdiction over this action at all.”
It’s the first decision in a pile of post-election lawsuits filed largely by Republican groups or losing Republican candidates seeking to challenge state, and specifically Clark County, processes and procedures for tabulating mail ballots.
Mueller has filed similar lawsuits on behalf of another Republican congressional candidate (Dan Rodimer), a state Senate candidate (April Becker) and an Assembly candidate (Cheryln Arrington). President Donald Trump’s campaign has also filed a lawsuit seeking to nullify the results of the state’s presidential election and force the state’s six electoral votes to either be awarded to Trump or nullified completely.
Another lawsuit has been filed by former U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle and an affiliated voter integrity group seeking an emergency halt to the state’s canvassing and processing of election results, again over allegations of voter fraud.
Though the Marchant lawsuit echoed many of the other voter fraud allegations, much of the hearing Friday was spent on jurisdictional issues and whether Sturman could even order a new election.
Mueller argued that judicial intervention was necessary because of doubts regarding the outcome of the election, and defended his filing of the lawsuit as a narrowly tailored challenge to what he saw as a Clark county-specific issue.
“This is not an election of national significance,” he said. “It’s an election, or issue, of local incompetence."
But attorneys for Clark County, as well as for the Nevada State Democratic Party and Democratic National Committee, said that the lawsuit was filed as a run-around of the procedures laid out in state law for contesting the results of an election.
Clark County general counsel Mary-Anne Miller said much of the math being used in Mueller’s petition was erroneous. He had pointed to an issue of around 93,000 “inactive” voters (still legally registered to vote but who do not have a current address on file with election officials) who were mailed ballots that were returned undeliverable in the state’s June primary election, but Miller said the state and county only mailed ballots to active registered voters in the general election, adding that the plaintiffs in the case did not provide any hard evidence that any inactive voters cast an illegal ballot.
“There's nothing to jump to the conclusion that 93,000 people voted in the general election when they should not have. The fact that a ballot came back undeliverable in a primary means nothing. It doesn't mean these 93,000 people didn't change their address and voted incorrectly. It doesn't even mean these 93,000 voted. It's just a giant leap there that they have no basis.”
Kevin Hamilton, an attorney representing the Democratic organizations, said that the fundamental principle that Marchant or any losing candidate had to adhere to when contesting election results required identification of fraudulent votes that were cast — and that enough were cast to bring the results of the election into question. He said the “back-of-the-napkin” calculations and press clippings used by Mueller fell far short of those standards.
“Every step of the analysis, he fails,” he said.
Hamilton also said the lawsuit ignored the section of Nevada law requiring contested election results in federal contests to be decided by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Though Mueller raised the recent decision by the Clark County Commission to consider a special election in the narrow commission race between Ross Miller and Stavros Anthony, Sturman said there was a sizable difference between that race — decided by just 10 votes — and the Marchant and Horsford race, where the Democratic candidate won by 30,000 votes (in Clark County).
Sturman said her biggest concern with the lawsuit remained the fact that she was being asked to order a new election in just one county of the congressional district, which raised constitutional equal protection questions given that votes in the other six counties composing the congressional district were not being challenged.
“We are looking at six other counties in an election for a congressional seat,” she said. “I don't see how you can do that. I've been cited no authority that would allow us to do that.”