It happens like clockwork.
Candidates announce their bids for office. Then the attack ads follow in short order, unabashedly targeting their voting records and more.
We’re here to help. The Nevada Independent already produces fact-checks for political advertisements and off-the-cuff remarks, but we also want to get ahead of the campaign game.
When politicians announce their candidacy for public office, we’ll roll out “On the Record” — our look at their voting history and stances on a broad array of subjects.
Now up: Two-term Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Araujo, who announced his candidacy for secretary of state on Monday.
On running and future career moves
Araujo, who has served for two sessions in the Assembly and is a rising star in the party with his post as Nevada’s Democratic National Committee representative, says his interest in the job is longstanding.
“I’ve always been passionate about the secretary of state’s office,” said Araujo, 29. “It’s sometimes the only interaction that Nevadans get with their state government, whether it’s through the voting booth or starting a new business. So we need to make sure that that office … is on the cutting edge of technology and so we deserve leaders that are forward-thinking.”
But he and people who know him have mused about higher office before. He told The Nevada Independent En Espanol that his uncle used to predict he might become president someday because he was always interested in politics, and when he met Democratic former Sen. Harry Reid when he was 17, he said he told the senior lawmaker that he wanted to be a senator when he grew up.
He’s not shutting down any possibilities.
“Right now my sole focus is on winning this race for secretary of state, but Nevada is home to me. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure we are fighting for hard-working Nevadans,” he said. “So I won’t close any doors but for me right now the task at hand is to get elected as SOS.”
Asked how he would keep voter fraud at bay, Araujo expressed confidence in the work of local voter registrars and said he would look into ways that better technology could help.
“We heard discussion during session in terms of just how well-prepared our county registrars are when it comes to protecting our electors and making sure … that they feel safe and they know that their vote is protected when they go into that voting booth and cast their ballots,” he said. “So there are advancements in technology that will help us keep that process safe, but I will tell you that with every conversation I have in terms of increasing access and opportunity, I’ll also be having a conversation around creating a system that is fair, that is safe, and that protects Nevadans.”
He had some criticism for a voter fraud investigation Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske launched this spring. She announced that her office found evidence of at least three non-citizens voting in the 2016 election and faulted the Department of Motor Vehicles for its registration protocol, although the DMV defended itself against the accusations.
The probe is still ongoing and further details haven’t been released.
“I think the secretary of state’s office should always be at the forefront of any potential investigation that will ultimately ensure that a Nevadan’s vote is protected and that the process is safe and in a healthy place,” Araujo said. “There were missteps in how that was communicated out and there were clearly disconnects between her office and other state agencies and so it’s just important for all of us to be on the same page when it comes to protecting Nevadans on the elections front.”
Democratic former Secretary of State Ross Miller made waves when he introduced a form of voter photo ID requirements in 2013. Democrats typically eschew the idea, saying it’s expensive, a barrier to voting and is a solution in search of a problem.
Republicans have pushed for more identification at the polls in recent legislative sessions, although nothing has come to pass and voters still identify themselves with a signature in a booklet.
Araujo said he wanted to take a closer look at Miller’s proposal, which called for driver’s license photos to link up with voter registration records and poll workers to take a picture of people who don’t have such an ID. He said he is open to “innovative approaches” to modernizing elections.
“I’ll have to look more into the ideas that Ross pushed forth and understand his logic in terms of presenting that concept,” Araujo said. “So I will continue to have that dialogue with folks and I’m hopeful that we will be able to create a system that’s open transparent and also one that safeguards our most fundamental right.”
Replacing Electoral College with popular vote
Araujo was the lead sponsor of a bill that would have entered Nevada into the National Popular Vote interstate compact. If enough states joined, the Electoral College system would be effectively replaced with a straight popular vote.
“Today, we are here to make the case for having every single vote count when electing our nation’s leader,” he said in a hearing where he presented the measure.
The concept gained some steam especially after Hillary Clinton — a candidate Araujo openly supported — won the popular vote by racking up wide leads in Democratic strongholds such as California but lost the Electoral College. Opponents, however, worried it would give larger states more clout and reduce the importance of swing-voting Nevada on the national campaign stage.
“I presented it within the context that I wanted us to have that dialogue in the Legislature. I didn’t take a side,” Araujo said.
The bill did not advance.
“I had so many folks from both sides of the aisle share with me concerns about the electoral system and all they wanted to do is have a conversation,” he said. “The Legislature made a decision and I fully respect the decision that was made by the Legislature. I think that’s always worth having a dialogue and a conversation around what these concepts look like.”
Primary instead of caucus
Araujo sponsored a bill that would allow parties to opt in to a presidential preference primary rather than a caucus. It had a committee hearing but never came up for a vote, although Araujo said he didn’t have an explanation on why it didn’t advance.
“This bill would have allowed each party the option to ‘opt in’ to a primary or continue using the caucus system for presidential primaries,” he explained. “When I introduced it, I clarified that it was important to give each party the choice to select which process would be most effective for voters.”
Nevada’s caucus system, which is more complicated than casting a ballot in a primary and requires voters show up at a specific time, has been a subject of much criticism from participants. But some proponents speculate that Nevada could lose its coveted position as one of first states to weigh in on the presidential contest if it abandons the caucus process and moves to the more common primary format.
“I felt that it was important to provide options,” Araujo said. “I want to continue this conversation and move the ball forward so the process is more accessible for voters in 2020 — while making sure we remain ‘First in the West’ — whether that’s through a primary system or by making improvements to the caucus process.”
Nevada is a popular place to incorporate a business, but lax rules and the anonymity they afford have attracted scrutiny. The release of the so-called “Panama Papers” last year prompted Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden to raise concerns about shadowy business entities to Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.
“I have become increasingly concerned about the use of anonymous shell companies as vehicles for terrorist financing, tax evasion, and fraud targeting major government programs within the committee’s jurisdiction, such as Medicare,” Wyden wrote in a letter to the Nevada secretary of state.
Cegavske said in a response last summer that she planned to organize a working committee to review business registration policies and registered agent requirements.
Asked about whether he thinks Nevada’s system needs to change, Araujo said it should be modernized.
“I do think that it’s important for transparency to always be at the forefront of every conversation that we have,” he said. “I am always willing to have that conversation to see what gaps may exist and how we can ensure that those gaps … are eliminated so we can make great strides to make Nevada a transparent state that we could be proud of.”
Same-day and automatic voter registration
In announcing his candidacy, Araujo said the state needs someone who will support automatic voter registration that updates records whenever someone comes into contact with the DMV. He also championed policies that allow voters to cast their ballot the same day they register to vote.
“I think you’ll see me right out of the gate presenting bills that really focus on access and opportunity to the early voting process, to closing the gap between early day vote and election day and making sure folks have a … greater chance of participating in the election.”
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed an initiative petition in 2017 that proposed an automatic voter registration process or “motor voter” program, saying it opens the door for more improper voter registrations. That means the proposal will be up for a statewide vote in 2018, when Araujo is expected to be on the ballot.
Araujo was critical of Cegavske for not advocating for such policies.
“If I were to categorize the current [secretary of state’s] first term, I would characterize it as one of missed opportunities,” he said. “I think we’ve had great, great opportunities to increase access to early voting, to be an advocate for same day registration, to modernize technology, to close that gap between early votes and election day. And so in order for those things to take place and in order for us to make those great advancements, we need advocates in that office.”
In his announcement, he pointed out that secretaries of state elsewhere have mobile apps allowing voters to check their registration status or find their polling location, and get in a virtual line when they need to file new business paperwork.
“These are smart, cost-effective ideas that could make Nevadans’ lives easier,” he said in a statement. “That’s the kind of forward-thinking leadership I intend to bring to the table as our next secretary of state.”
Araujo didn’t take a firm stance on the idea of changing from a closed primary system, where only voters who are registered with a major political party can vote in their primary, to an “open primary” where all voters participate and the top two vote-getters advance to the general election.
“I think a lot of these issues warrant a long, thought-out discussion before official positions can be taken and I think we owe that to many folks to make that happen,” he said.
Proponents say open primaries will enfranchise a growing number of registered nonpartisans (they account for 21 percent of Nevada’s active registered voters). But Democratic leaders decided not to bring a bill with the concept, sponsored by Republican Sen. James Settelmeyer, up for discussion.
“I recall last session hearing different perspectives and so I think that this is a conversation that we’ll continue to have to have down the road,” Araujo said. “But I am open to having a dialogue and further allowing myself to understand what the merit may be to having this.”
Federal voter fraud commission
Araujo was critical of Cegavske for responding to a request for information from the Trump Administration’s Election Integrity Commission, which asked states in June for voters’ names, addresses, birth dates, party affiliation, voting history back to 2006 and the last four digits of their Social Security number.
Cegavske said she would provide publicly available information but not Social Security numbers, email addresses, driver’s license numbers and other private data.
Some states put up more of a fight against the commission, whose vice chair is Kansas Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach; he has long expressed concerns that large numbers of illegal immigrants are voting. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, for example, said he would not provide that information to a commission that “has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally.”
Araujo thinks Cegavske still went too far.
“To have an SOS willing to just turn over the data without any questions asked is fundamentally putting Nevadans’ privacy at risk for the sake of politics and I think that we can do better than that,” he said. “Statute allows her to share that information but it’s important for us to also raise those questions. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s necessarily ethical.”
Araujo was the primary sponsor of a bill that was used to update Nevada’s medical marijuana program in the wake of recreational marijuana legalization.
Among other provisions, it moved the regulation of medical marijuana from the Division of Public and Behavioral Health to the Department of Taxation, raised the medical marijuana wholesale tax to 15 percent to bring it in line with recreational marijuana’s wholesale tax, and reduced the price of a medical marijuana card from $75 per year to $50 per year.
Regionalizing mental health
Araujo carried a successful bill breaking mental health delivery into four distinct regions with their own governing boards who offer suggestions on policy, funding and implementation.
The idea had been in the works since 2013 and was a priority for lawmakers’ Southern Nevada Forum. It’s meant to address the vast disparities in mental health service delivery in densely populated urban counties and sprawling rural areas.
“I have learned that all regions of the state are facing unique challenges, and I strongly believe that each region is best qualified to address its respective issues,” Araujo said at a hearing for the bill, which he said “encompasses the concerns of so many diverse experts and leaders in the field and takes us a step forward in ensuring that local communities have a voice in the process.”
Araujo, who is gay, is a board member of the LGBT Center of Southern Nevada and a former political committee co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign Las Vegas chapter.
He sponsored a successful bill that requires juvenile detention facilities, foster homes, child care facilities and mental health facilities to treat children according to their gender identity, regardless of their biological sex. It also requires people who work in child welfare to undergo training on working with LGBT youth.
“I strongly feel that if we allow ourselves to pass this bill and get it signed we will be making great advancements toward making sure that all of our youth have the proper protections,” he said at a hearing.
He was a co-sponsor of a bill that bans conversion therapy, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation.
He also proposed an amendment to the Nevada Constitution to remove the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. While the proposal doesn’t do much because federal law already allows same-sex marriage, proponents say it’s a backstop in case the Supreme Court ever reverses course.
It passed with an amendment saying it won’t require clergy to solemnize same-sex marriage, and will go to the 2019 legislative session for a second round of approval before heading to a statewide vote.
Araujo was a co-sponsor of a bill that would have prohibited state or local law enforcement agencies from doing immigration enforcement work. Amid heated debate about “sanctuary” policies, it never came up for a hearing or a vote.
He was also a co-sponsor of a bill that prevents any governmental entity that maintains information about a person’s immigration status from sharing that data with the federal government. That, too, didn’t receive a hearing.
Araujo was one of 13 Assembly members to vote against public financing for the Las Vegas stadium, drawing some wrath on social media from the Laborers Union, which characterized it as a vote against jobs.
Disclosure: The Laborers Union has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.