The Raiders are in the middle of their first season in Las Vegas, but I remember when the Dallas Cowboys moved to Southern Nevada.
That’s right. Quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Terrell Owens — real Cowboys stars, right here in Las Vegas.
At least, that’s what the voter registrations said.
Back in 2008, a creative employee of the controversial Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) embarked on a nationwide voter registration drive that veered so far off course it generated thousands of fraudulent registrations. Romo and Owens were among the hundreds of names purloined by ACORN workers who filled out false registrations, they said, in an effort to make their quotas with the organization.
If you think that’s a Mickey Mouse strategy, well, the Disney rodent was also a registered voter. So was Dr. Seuss.
But that’s not voter fraud. It’s registration fraud, and it was caught by the Clark County Election office. Those who broke the rules had no intention of those registered ghosts actually voting, and the ACORN nuts were hauled through the court system. Elections weren’t compromised, and the public wasn’t victimized — the ACORN organization was, by its employees.
Like other communities, Southern Nevada has a colorful history of voter fraud allegations, almost all of which are unorganized and isolated. And speaking of unorganized, that pretty much describes the late casino hustler and big dreamer Bob Stupak, who ran unsuccessfully for Las Vegas Mayor in 1987 in a race that immediately generated rumors of voter fraud.
Stupak himself tried to put the stories to rest in 1990 by offering a $250,000 reward for anyone who could bring him proof, and he added that he’d lay 100-to-1 odds if anyone wanted to bet it.
Of course, no one did. Although one juicy rumor had Stupak more concerned about actually winning than losing, he enjoyed the publicity boost he received by campaigning. And any reports of him picking up homeless people, plying them with a few bucks and a stiff drink, and driving them to the polls in a limousine remain unconfirmed.
By 1993, Gov. Bob Miller, a Democrat, and Secretary of State Cheryl Lau, a Republican, led a bipartisan effort to reform the election system in the state. Miller had made the need for election reform part of his state of the state address. In the wake of another voter registration scandal, the “head tax” bounties for registrations was banned along with other changes intended to sober up the process.
At the time, Lau said, perhaps too optimistically, “There will be no more registration bounties, no more God Almightys running, no more registration of dogs and cats.”
But, God Almighty if the shenanigans didn’t continue.
Three years later, then-Secretary of State Dean Heller blasted Clark County Registrar of Voters Kathryn Ferguson for not being tougher on reports that some voters were selling their absentee ballots. And on it went.
One of my favorite examples of voter fraud in Southern Nevada occurred in 2002 when GOP activist and motorcycle group lobbyist Gary Horrocks devised a plan to lard Assembly District 37 with a few dozen extra votes. Using the addresses of empty houses in the district, Horrocks held a voter registration party for his patrons at the Clubhouse Tavern in North Las Vegas. The mail-in ballots were to be sent to the post office box for his Nevada Association of Concerned Motorcyclists group. It wasn’t massive voter fraud, but it was a rousing success.
Until it was discovered. In April 2003 a Clark County grand jury indicted Horrocks and his wife on 62 counts of voter fraud. They signed a plea deal in 2007 admitting to a single felony and gross misdemeanor.
In another case rattling around in my memory, there’s the story of a local woman who admitted she had fellow patrons at a local bar she frequented fill out voter registration forms using fictitious names just to see if the registrations would make it through the process. They didn’t.
I recall thinking at the time that it must have been a really boring bar to hang out in.
I could go on, but by now you get the idea. Cases of voter fraud and so-called voting irregularities exist here. Always have. When they are suspected, they are investigated. When fraud is determined, it’s prosecuted. The system works, thanks to groups of dedicated people who adhere to the law and take their jobs seriously.
But in 2020, we’re now being told by the Trump campaign and its true believers in the state Republican Party that the system no longer works, that Nevada – especially heavily Democratic Clark County – is rife with widespread voter fraud.
It’s not true, but lying is all they have left. And that’s a shame.
President Trump lost a competitive race for re-election to former Vice President Joe Biden. Instead of – for once – upholding the dignity of the office, Trump continues to tar the very foundation of our democracy.
In crying voter fraud, they continue to perpetrate a fraud on voters.
John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith