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Nevada officials call for dismissal of GOP lawsuit to stop presidential primary election

Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Election 2024
Carson City Courthouse on Nov. 16, 2021. (Photo by David Calvert).

State officials are pushing back against a lawsuit filed by the Nevada Republican Party to stop Nevada’s scheduled presidential primary election in February.

The lawsuit and state response underscore an important electoral change for Nevada, which will finally move away from presidential caucuses to primary elections next year for both major political parties. Nevada is among the first states in both the Republican and Democratic presidential nominee selection calendar. 

Nevada Republicans last month sued to stop the enforcement of AB126, which passed the Legislature in 2021, arguing that the bill’s requirement to hold a presidential preference primary (PPP) violates their freedom of association. The attorney general’s office — representing the secretary of state’s office — said last week in a response filing that the Nevada GOP’s argument does not hold legal merit, and that the party is not bound to accept the results of the primary election in how it allocates presidential delegates.  A state party official said the party would respond to the filing in court by Friday.

Under the 2021 law, the state will hold a presidential primary election for both major political parties on Feb. 6, 2024, as long as more than one candidate has filed to run. Presidential candidates must file their candidacy with the secretary of state’s office between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15 of the year immediately preceding the election.

The secretary of state’s office contends that state Republican leaders, who prefer caucuses, can opt to hold a caucus in addition to the primary election. While primaries are run by the government and use secret ballots, caucuses are run by political parties, require in-person participation and involve publicly indicating one’s preferred candidate. 

Under a caucus system, voters meeting at public locations such as schools and community centers physically form groups around a room depending on their preferred candidate. The process, which happens at a set time, can take hours and often involves voters trying to persuade each other to change their voting preference. 

The attorney general’s office said the primary election would boost security and confidence in the state’s elections because votes are cast in secret rather than through the public nature of a caucus. Officials also argued caucuses can be inaccessible for voters, especially those with language barriers or who are unable to participate at the set time of the caucus.

A 2021 poll of roughly 800 Nevadans found the majority backed a primary election rather than caucuses.

The results of the presidential primary are non-binding, so state Republicans don’t have to use those election results when deciding how to allocate presidential delegates. 

“As a result, the NV GOP will not suffer any irreparable harm should the non-binding PPP election process go forward,” attorneys wrote in their response.

The state party has until Oct. 1 to decide how to award presidential delegates, according to the Republican National Committee bylaws.

Like a normal primary or general election, the presidential primary will see the state send sample ballots in the mail, establish voting locations and allow voting by mail and overseas ballots for the military. Voters should expect to receive sample ballots in late December or early January. For a voter to participate in the PPP election, they must be registered to vote with one of the two major parties.

The counties then will canvass election returns, and the secretary of state’s office will compile the tabulations and send them to the party’s state and national committees, which can choose to ignore those results in favor of results from caucuses.

Though rare, a political party has chosen to hold a caucus and primary for the same election. In Washington in 2016, Democrats held a caucus and presidential primary. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) won the caucus, while Hillary Clinton’s PPP victory was symbolic because party officials used the caucus results to award delegates.

National Democrats this year approved calendar changes that will comply with AB126, slotting Nevada as tied for second in the state primary election order. The Feb. 6 primary is the same day as New Hampshire’s election and three days after the South Carolina contest. That’s a boost from the 2020 Democratic caucuses, when the Silver State was third in line behind Iowa and New Hampshire.

Republicans, however, have opted to keep their presidential nominating calendar the same as it was in 2020, with Nevada in the third slot behind Iowa and New Hampshire.

Republicans in Nevada have so far balked at the change from a caucus to a primary.

In their lawsuit filed last month in the First Judicial District Court in Carson City, the GOP claimed the requirement to hold a primary election violates the party’s right to freedom of association, and asked the court to either prohibit the state from holding a primary election or allow the results to be nonbinding.

The lawsuit cited the legislative proceedings for SB292, another 2021 bill that dealt with the inner workings of political parties. The GOP argues in its lawsuit that SB292 recognizes the right of freedom of association and independence of political parties, and that AB126 is unlawfully interfering in party workings.

The state objected to that argument, claiming that because state and national party leadership can ignore the results of the PPP when allocating delegates, AB126 does not infringe on internal party processes.

“Nevada's diverse population is an important representation of the makeup of the entire country, and holding the presidential primary elections earlier elevates the voices of Nevadans in selecting who should lead the country,” the attorney general’s office said last week in its legal response.


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