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Nevada GOP sues state, wants to hold a 2024 presidential caucus

Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
Election 2024ElectionsGovernment
A volunteer cleans windows at the GOP headquarters in Henderson on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent).

The Nevada GOP filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the state over a 2021 law dropping its presidential caucus and establishing a presidential primary in the state.

Cisco Aguilar, in his official role as secretary of state, was also named a defendant in the suit, which was filed by the party’s 2022 attorney general candidate and Republican National Committeewoman Sigal Chattah in the First Judicial District Court in Carson City. 

In 2021, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed laws transitioning Nevada from a caucus to a presidential primary, and moving the date for it to be held to the first Tuesday in February, advancing the state in the presidential nominating calendar. Since then, the Democratic Party passed a schedule that calls for Nevada and New Hampshire to hold concurrent primaries on that date, going second after South Carolina. The law was opposed by Republicans in the Legislature.

The Republican Party wants to keep the traditional Iowa-New Hampshire-South Carolina-Nevada schedule and maintain the state’s caucus model, which the 2021 law, enacted through AB126, would presumably foil.

While primaries are run by governments and use secret ballots, caucuses are run by political parties, require in-person participation, and involve publicly indicating one’s preferred candidate. 

In a statement, Nevada’s GOP said its lawsuit would ensure only Republicans can set the date of the Republican nominating contest. 

“Due to the inability of Nevada Democrats to execute a smooth, efficient caucus, they want to use unaccountable dark money in an attempt to force Republicans to change the way we choose our Presidential nominee, and allow out-of-state interests to interfere in the Nevada GOP nominating process,” the state party said in a statement. “The first four early states continue to stand together to maintain our historic role in the Presidential nominating process.”

However, the secretary of state’s office said in a statement that the 2021 law permits parties to conduct a caucus if they so choose, as they understand it.

The lawsuit claims the 2021 law violates the First Amendment’s guarantee to “freedom of association” — verbiage not technically enumerated in the Constitution though found by the Supreme Court to exist in a Civil Rights-era case. The complaint argues that a political party’s right to select its own presidential candidates is an intrinsic part of freedom of association, and that the 2021 law negates this right by forcing the GOP to hold a primary rather than a caucus. 

The lawsuit argues that the Legislature expressly recognized this right in its discussion and passage of SB292, which also passed in 2021, and removed language about the organization of political parties from the state law.

“AB126 is notable because it seemingly precludes a major political party such as the NV GOP from opting out of the primary election process, and thus impedes its ability to pursue a party-run caucus system (or other permissible method) instead,” the lawsuit says.

The Legislature decided to move to a primary after the tumultuous 2020 Democratic caucus. Though Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was declared the winner of the state’s presidential caucus on the same day as the caucus, full results were unavailable for two days afterwards. And after the disastrous Iowa caucus, Nevada Democrats began calling for the switch to a primary.

If the Nevada GOP decides to hold a caucus rather than a primary, it could set its own date. Doing so, however, would entail forgoing the funding and coordination of a state-administered primary. In states including Alaska and Kentucky, Republicans hold a caucus while Democrats have a primary.

But the lawsuit alleges that AB126 precludes the Nevada GOP from opting out of the primary system, and the party is asking the court for a writ of prohibition to bar Aguilar from enforcing the bill. 

The text of AB126 states that “a presidential preference primary election must be held for all major political parties on the first Tuesday in February” unless the party only has one or zero candidates. The lawsuit interprets the “must” as pertaining to holding a primary — as opposed to a primary, if it is held, needing to occur on the aforementioned date — and asks the court for an exemption.

Furthermore, the lawsuit asks that, even if the court finds that the state can compel the GOP to hold a primary, it allows the results of said primary to be nonbinding, which would permit party leadership to assign its delegates regardless of the results of the vote.

The national party can recognize — or not recognize — any form of nomination contest it wants

Nevada State Democratic Party spokesperson Mallory Payne said the lawsuit is another effort by Republicans to limit voter access, given that Democrats moved to a primary in order to simplify the voting process.

“Republicans aren’t even trying that hard to hide their intentions,” she said in a statement. “They’re doing whatever it takes to protect their MAGA leader and get Trump over the finish line.”



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