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Judge tosses initial GOP lawsuit alleging Nevada voter rolls insufficiently maintained

The judge said the Nevada GOP and RNC lacked standing to file the suit, and that the state did not have any way to resolve the alleged infractions in time.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
CourtsElection 2024

A federal judge on Tuesday approved a motion to dismiss a GOP-led lawsuit alleging that Nevada had insufficiently maintained its voter rolls, but will allow for an amended complaint addressing standing issues to be re-filed with the court.

After a two hour hearing in Las Vegas, U.S. District Court Judge Cristina Silva ruled that the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Nevada GOP lacked standing to file the lawsuit. She also ruled that there was no way for the state to resolve the alleged issues when the lawsuit was filed, owing to federal guidelines on the timing of amending voting roll programs to remove ineligible voters. The groups have 14 days to amend their complaint.

Claire Zunk, an RNC spokeswoman, said in a Wednesday statement the ruling was based on “flawed legal reasoning” and that the group “will pursue every legal avenue to fight this decision.”

Attorneys representing the RNC and Nevada GOP did not respond to a request for comment sent Tuesday after the hearing.

The ruling marks an initial legal defeat for Republican groups that have already launched a trio of election-related lawsuits in Nevada this year, including efforts to stop the counting of mail ballots after Election Day, as allowed in state law,  and the alleged inclusion of non-postmarked mail ballots.

It is also the first ruling in the nation this year over the RNC’s efforts to challenge the legitimacy of states’ voting rolls — similar suits have been filed in Arizona, California and Michigan — as the national group floods courts in swing states with lawsuits related to election administration. Former President Donald Trump recently handpicked the RNC’s new leadership team, including appointing his daughter-in-law Lara Trump as the group’s co-chair.

The RNC and Nevada GOP filed the suit in March alongside a Washoe County man named Scott Johnston, arguing that the number of registered voters in five counties were so high that the maintenance of the state’s voter rolls must have been insufficient. The Republicans asserted that three counties — Douglas, Lyon and Storey — have more registered voters on the rolls than adult citizens, and two jurisdictions — Carson City and Clark County — have voter registration rates that exceed 90 percent of the total adult population. 

The focus of the lawsuit is the state’s adherence to the National Voter Registration Act, a federal law that governs state policies on voter rolls. The law largely prohibits states from removing voters from its rolls until the voter has failed to respond to a notice and has not voted in the two general elections after the notice had been delivered — requirements that are also outlined in Nevada law.

Tuesday’s hearing largely revolved around whether the defendants in the case had standing and whether the state had an opportunity to resolve any allegations of impropriety.

Silva ruled that the case failed to meet this threshold, citing federal law that prohibits any changes to voter roll programs to purge ineligible voters within 90 days of an election. The lawsuit was filed on March 18, less than 90 days before the June primaries, meaning there was no redress available for the state at the time.

“Timing is everything in federal court,” Silva said. “I could not order the state to develop and implement a program at the time this action was brought.”

The issue of standing also deals with whether the filers of the suit had suffered an injury. 

Silva was unconvinced by the arguments that the alleged voter roll violations had resulted in the Washoe County man included as a plaintiff suffering an injury, in that he distrusted the state’s elections.

Silva also dismissed the standing arguments proffered by the Nevada GOP and RNC, which had contended that the alleged insufficient maintenance of the state voter rolls had harmed their mission because they rely on accurate voter rolls to conduct voter outreach to elect Republicans. She sided with the lawyers representing Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, who argued that these alleged harms were too general and speculative.

Silva did not side against the GOP on all of the arguments, ruling that its notice of an impending lawsuit in December was sufficient even though the filed lawsuit addressed a wider array of issues. 

Hearings on motions to dismiss cases are not based on the strength of the evidence, so that went unaddressed on Tuesday.

Even if Silva had denied the motion to dismiss the case, the state’s voter roll processes were all but guaranteed to be unaffected ahead of the November election. Federal cases take months to litigate, and the state is prohibited from changing its voter roll program 90 days before the election.

Despite the ruling, there may be additional challenges this year related to voter registration, albeit on a smaller scale.

A report released Monday by Protect Democracy — a nonprofit focused on combating a rise in authoritarianism — identified 11 states, including Nevada, that could be targeted this year in campaigns brought by individuals to challenge states’ voter rolls.

Laws related to voter registration challenges differ across states. In Nevada, an individual can challenge another person’s right to vote, but is limited to challenging one person’s vote status at a time and must have personal knowledge of why that person is ineligible to vote.

Updated on 6/19 at 3:30 p.m. to include a statement from the RNC.


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