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Governor Steve Sisolak during a press conference on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020 in the former Assembly chambers inside the Capital in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Last updated: August 25th, 2020 - 3:25pm

Gov. Steve Sisolak has rejected a request by Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske to more closely track individuals who collect and turn in mail ballots on behalf of other voters during the 2020 election, saying she has “attempted to use the emergency regulation process for what appears to be political reasons.”

The two-page letter sent Tuesday to Cegavske, a Republican, rejects her request made last week for emergency regulations requiring anyone who collects and turns in ballots for more than 10 other voters to register with her office and disclose personal information. Cegavske said it was a necessary step to avoid potential fraud affiliated with ballot collection, which is often referred to derisively as “ballot harvesting” by Republican groups.

Nevada law previously prohibited any non-family members from turning in another voter’s absentee or mail ballot, but lawmakers in the most recent special session approved a wide-ranging bill that expanded mail-in voting and explicitly authorized ballot collection practices with penalties for not turning ballots in on time.

Sisolak’s letter identified a host of procedural and other concerns with her request, while also criticizing Cegavske for attempting to “politicize” the emergency regulation process. Adoption of the emergency regulations requires the governor’s approval.

“I have the highest regard for you as the state’s Chief Election Officer, and I have full confidence in your ability to run a fair, transparent and efficient election in November,” Sisolak wrote. “However, this request and the corresponding press release echoes the voter suppression rhetoric being heard on the national stage with respect to Nevada’s voter assistance laws, which have been widely implemented in multiple states.”

The governor also criticized the proposed regulations use of the term “ballot harvester,” writing that the term does not appear anywhere else in Nevada election law and is “generally a partisan term used to negatively identify voter assistance provisions in other states.”

Sisolak also wrote in the letter that the emergency regulation request failed to actually identify an emergency — writing that there is “no indication” that the new rules will create or have created an emergency situation requiring the state to adopt emergency rules. He noted that Cegavske identified “non-specific experiences of bad actors” in other states, but provided no Nevada examples and didn’t attempt to discuss the issue with the governor’s office before issuing the request.

In a response sent Tuesday afternoon, Cegavske said she was "disappointed" in the governor's decision to not endorse what she called "reasonable regulation regarding the conduct of ballot harvesting."

The secretary of state also outlined a litany of complaints with the process of passing the elections bill (AB4) during the most recent legislative session. Cegavske said that she and her office made multiple attempts to provide input on potential election changes ahead of the special session, but that they were rebuffed and the bill was "rushed through with essentially no public feedback."

"Our requests were all dismissed or ignored, and my staff was only told what could be in the bill a day before it was introduced and heard in both houses," she said in a statement.

The letter also casts doubt on how the regulations would allow the secretary of state’s office the ability to “investigate and stop” any illegal activity associated with ballot collection. The requested regulations only require the so-called “ballot harvesters” to register with the secretary of state’s office by the seventh day after the election, which is the final day any mail ballot can be counted if postmarked on the day or before the day of an election.

“This information — received on the last possible day for a mail ballot to be received — would not actually assist your office in stopping any potential bad actors from utilizing the voter assistance provisions,” the letter states.

Sisolak also states that the emergency regulations failed to include a required informational statement (which includes cost to taxpayers, rationale for the regulation’s need and other information for the public) and included a signature block in the wrong place.

Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have criticized the state’s decision to expand mail-in voting and other election changes approved during the most recent special session, alleging that it will lead to a rush of voter fraud. His campaign filed a lawsuit earlier this month in federal court challenging the law and asking for an injunction to block it from being implemented.

Updated at 3:25 p.m. to include a statement from Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.

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