Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, who represents Senate District 5, at the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Feb. 6, 2017. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

A petition to recall Democratic state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse has enough valid signatures to trigger a special election, although state Democrats have pledged to fight the election from ever taking place.

Clark County elections officials reviewed the validity a random sampling of 876 signatures — representing 5 percent of the 17,502 of the signatures submitted on the petition — but deferred to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office to do final calculations on how many of the signatures were considered eligible and how many should be stricken because voters later rescinded permission.

Secretary of State’s officials said Friday evening that they had verified 15,444 valid signatures on the recall petition, just over the 15,201 needed to qualify it for a special election. 

Democrats have collected and submitted 789 signature removal documents from people who signed the petition but who don’t support the recall that must be processed before the final certification is made.

If the random sampling reveals that recall organizers have collected between 90 and 100 percent of the needed signatures, it will automatically trigger a more extensive review of signatures. 

If all goes as recall organizers plan, a special election to oust Woodhouse will likely happen sometime in mid-December. But Democrats have all hands on deck in the effort to prevent that from happening, preparing to file lawsuits challenging the recall process and an organized effort to disqualify signatures on the recall petition.

“To be clear: this fight is far from over. From day one we said we’d fight this with every tool possible. We remain committed to doing so,” the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Their challenge could include doing their own full review of the petitions that were submitted. If a lawsuit emerges during a 10-day window after the clerk issues a call for a special election, it would “stop the clock” and delay the timeline for holding the special election until the matter is resolved in court.

Woodhouse is one of three lawmakers being targeted for recalls as part of a Republican-backed effort to gain majority control of the state Senate — a feat that would be very difficult through the normal channels of regular elections. Republicans want to drive the agenda in the 2019 legislative session, but also want to be in control for the politically critical redistricting process that will happen after the 2020 session; the power to draw voting district lines could influence how easy it will be for their party to capture congressional and state Legislature seats in the decade to come.

However, the language on the recall petitions offer a different rationale — that Woodhouse has voted to raise taxes and is out of touch with the district’s voters, for example.

The recalls for Republican-turned-independent Sen. Patricia Farley and Democratic Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro — who, like Woodhouse, represent swingy districts that are within reach for Republicans —  got started later and aren’t as far along as the Woodhouse effort. Signatures have not yet been turned in in those petition drives, which are due next week.

To prompt a recall election, organizers must gather enough valid signatures to equal 25 percent of the voter turnout in that district from the election the lawmaker won. No elected state lawmaker has been successfully recalled in since at least 1993.

It is unclear who is financially backing the recall effort because campaign finance contributions aren’t required to be disclosed until four days before early voting begins for a special election under Nevada’s campaign finance laws. But Republican state senate leader Michael Roberson has been a vocal proponent of the recalls, saying in a recent Las Vegas Review-Journal column that he believes all state senate Democrats should face recall elections.

Henderson residents have reported Woodhouse’s support for a “sanctuary city” bill as one reason signature gatherers have given at the door to recall the three-term state senator. Backers of the recall are hoping to replace Woodhouse with her opponent in the 2016 election, executive director of Pinecrest Academy Carrie Buck.

Former Republican Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus, who is on the three-person committee that initiated the recall petition against Woodhouse, has avoided The Nevada Independent’s phone calls and questions about his involvement for two months. But when approached by a reporter at Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s governor campaign launch event on Wednesday, he offered a brief explanation for his involvement.

“It’s now time to have the voters’ voices heard on a term-limited, you know, elected official who I believe has gone against the will of the people,” he said before excusing himself and saying he had to run to the office.

The effort is also being challenged in court.

Earlier this month, Marc Elias, a prominent attorney who served as former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s general counsel during the 2016 election, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Las Vegas arguing the state doesn’t benefit from the recalls. The litigation — filed with help from Bradley Schrager, a former attorney for the Nevada State Democratic Party — asserts that a recall-induced special election would place an undue burden on voters as well as undermine the hallmarks of the republican system.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs are voters who live in the three lawmakers’ districts. The defendants are Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria, who would be tasked with carrying out the special elections.

Schrager said in an email that the case will likely be heard sometime next week.

The process

  1. A recall committee must file a notice of intent to recall with the appropriate filing officer (in this case, the Clark County clerk). This can be filed anytime after the first 10 days of a state lawmaker’s first legislative session following an election. The notice must be signed by three voters who actually cast a ballot during the last general election in the district that elected the official. (The petition against Woodhouse was filed Aug. 2.)
  2. Recall supporters must gather signatures from registered voters in the district to which the official was elected. The voters must have voted in the election when the official won, and the number of signatures must equal or exceed 25% of the voter turnout in the district at the time.
  3. The people who signed the notice of intent must turn the petition in to the clerk within 90 days of the filing of the notice of intent. (The petition against Woodhouse was submitted Oct. 30.)
  4. The clerk must count the raw number of signatures on the petition within four days of its submission and report that to the Secretary of State. If that number exceeds the required number of signatures for the recall petition, the clerk proceeds to the signature verification process.
  5. The clerk must examine a random sample of signatures on the petition — either 5 percent of the signatures or 500, whichever is greater. Checks for validity on the petition must be complete within 9 working days of sending the raw count to the Secretary of State.
  6. If, based on the random sampling, the Secretary of State determines that the petition has more than 90 percent of the required valid signatures but less than 100 percent, it triggers a reexamination. The clerks must continue verifying signatures until either the threshold is met or all signatures are checked for validity — whichever happens first. Clerks have 12 working days to complete the reexamination process.
  7. The clerk issues a call for a special election between 10 and 20 days after the Secretary of State declares the petition sufficient, unless a court complaint has been filed.
  8. If other candidates want to replace the person being recalled, they must submit a nominating petition at least 20 days before the special election. It needs the same number of signatures as the corresponding recall petition required.
  9. The special election must be held within 30 days after the clerk calls for it.

Updated at 1:50 p.m. to add context about potential legal challenges and comment from the Nevada Senate Democrats Updated at 5:30 p.m. to include information from the Secretary of State’s office.