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Higher ed chancellor, institution presidents say few pandemic-related changes in store as spring semester approaches

December 4th, 2020 - 5:00pm

With the fall semester coming to a close and the spring semester approaching, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Melody Rose praised the system’s pandemic response thus far and signaled few changes to pandemic plans already in place during a meeting of the Board of Regents Friday. 

“We are nine months into this pandemic, or so, and what was once thought to be a brief acute event has become a marathon,” Rose said. 

Though there were early concerns over spread among college and university communities — especially among students — contact tracing conducted over the last few months has shown few, if any, cases of viral transmission on campus or during in-person instruction. 

Instead, a vast majority of the spread among students and faculty has occurred off-campus, where transmission has largely ebbed and flowed with broader community spread. 

“I guess the biggest message from the fall semester as we prepare for the spring is that if you follow the protocols, they actually work,” Nevada State College President Bart Patterson said. “The complication, of course, is that students don't always follow those rules, sometimes, specifically when they’re not on campus, and so that's the big challenge that we all have.”

Across the board, presidents at the state’s colleges and universities said they would continue to operate in large part as they had in the fall, utilizing, in part, limited in-person instruction, mandatory mask-usage and expanded cleaning protocols. 

Some institutions have already planned for additional mitigation steps, especially amid some concerns that the pandemic may worsen before a vaccine becomes widely available sometime next year. 

UNR announced in October that it would cancel its spring break, citing concerns of students returning while contagious, and Truckee Meadows Community College President Karin Hilgersom said that, while still optimistic, the college remained ready to switch to “100 percent” online instruction if necessary. 

Still, as the state prepares to distribute the first wave of vaccinations this month and as hopes rise for broader vaccination through the spring, some institutions are also preparing plans to ramp up on-campus activity should conditions sufficiently improve. 

“We must be prepared to pivot to a new normal,” CSN President Federico Zaragoza said. “Thus, if the environment permits, we are also planning to significantly increase our CTE [college credit] and lab-intensive courses as part of a late spring semester … if [spring] is a different environment, it will be a game changer for us, and that I think it'll allow us to also then ramp up some of the workforce efforts that we have developed.” 

Elaine Wynn departing from State Board of Education at year's end

The back end of a Clark County School bus
December 4th, 2020 - 4:13pm

Elaine Wynn, a longtime force in Nevada’s K-12 education world, is leaving the State Board of Education at the end of this year.

Wynn, the board’s current president, was appointed to the governing body in 2012 by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval. Her appointment coincided with a major composition shift to the State Board of Education, which now includes both appointed and elected members.

Gov. Steve Sisolak also announced Friday that he has appointed former state board member Mark Newburn, who this year lost a re-election bid to Rene Cantu, to succeed Wynn. Newburn previously represented District 4 as an elected member.

“President Wynn’s legacy of service to the children of our great State is indelible,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Generations of children will be the beneficiaries of her life-long passion to improve education and support healthy communities throughout Nevada. I cannot thank President Wynn enough for her dedication to the Board and I know she will continue to contribute to the betterment of the Silver State.”

During her eight-year tenure on the board, Wynn — a businesswoman and philanthropist — emphasized better serving students of color as well as students living in poverty. That passion can be traced to her efforts since the pandemic disrupted learning in the spring. Wynn played a key role in establishing a public-private partnership known as Connecting Kids that has drastically reduced the number of children statewide without access to a device or internet for distance learning.

Three state superintendents — Jhone Ebert, Steve Canavero and Dale Erquiaga — were hired during her tenure. She also has a namesake building, the Elaine Wynn Elementary School, in Las Vegas.

Per Nevada law, appointed voting members of the State Board of Education serve two-year terms, with the caveat that they will continue serving until a successor has been appointed. When Newburn's term as an elected member expires in January, he will begin his appointed term.

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As remote learning continues, City of Las Vegas to create wireless network with six-figure grant

December 2nd, 2020 - 10:34am

The City of Las Vegas has received a $950,000 grant that will be put toward improving internet connectivity for students amid remote learning.

The six-figure grant comes from the Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology. Officials said it will be used to create a city-wide wireless network, with initial deployment near the Historic Westside, Corridor of Hope and Medical District neighborhoods.

The undertaking will involve adding equipment such as antennas, radios, fiber switches and microwave radios to streetlight poles. City leaders described the end result as a “heightened internet” that Clark County School District students can access at no charge through cell phones, tablets and mobile notebooks.

The first phase of the network project is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

It represents another effort to bridge the digital divide as students remain in distance-education mode. Recent estimates suggest nearly a third of Las Vegas households may not have fixed internet access.

Connecting students with both internet and appropriate technology devices has been a herculean effort since the pandemic abruptly closed schools in mid-March. Similarly, groups have been trying to improve the quality of the internet, especially for families with multiple children. 

The Clark County School District has been operating under remote learning this academic year and will continue to do so at least through early January.

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Governor, other elected officials slam Trump's tweet about Reno hospital, election results

December 1st, 2020 - 1:29pm

A tweet from President Donald Trump angered Nevada officials Tuesday after the commander-in-chief shared a bogus charge about a Reno hospital and falsely tweeted that Nevada’s election laws were “fake.”

Trump retweeted a post insinuating that an alternative hospital site inside a Renown Regional Medical Center parking garage is fake. The president included a message of his own at the top, saying “Fake election results in Nevada, also!”

The president’s post proved inflammatory, as Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, among others, condemned his attack.

Sisolak issued a 289-word statement and called the president’s tweet “dangerous and reckless,” especially when the pandemic is raging in many parts of the country.

“It is unconscionable for him to continue to spread lies and sow distrust at a time when all Americans should be united during this historic public health crisis,” the governor wrote. “Enough is enough.”

Last month, Renown Health officials stood up the alternative care site inside the parking garage as COVID-19 cases surged in Reno. A Renown spokesperson said, as of Tuesday, 42 patients with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 were being cared for in the alternative care site. 

Schieve likened the president’s tweet to an “attack on the community.”

“It is abhorrent to me that anyone, let alone a president, spout lies that mock and demean patients fighting for their lives,” she wrote in a statement. “The exceptional leaders at Renown have been forced into this unbelievable situation and I commend them for this heroic work.”

Ford echoed that sentiment in his response to Trump’s tweet.

“Nevadans from Douglas County to Downtown Las Vegas, from Pleasant Valley to Primm, and from Washoe to Winchester are suffering from COVID spikes,” Ford wrote in a Twitter post. “Stop downplaying it. Help our healthcare workers instead! For once.”

There were 2,160 new COVID-19 cases across Nevada reported Tuesday as well as a record 1,589 hospitalizations.

Commission candidate’s motion to stop vote certification in District C race denied

November 30th, 2020 - 2:39pm

A judge in Clark County has denied Republican candidate Stavros Anthony’s motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the County Commission from reconsidering certifying results in the District C race.

The motion was filed on Wednesday after the commission released an agenda that included a motion to reconsider requested by Commissioner Tick Segerblom allowing board members to vote on canvassing and certifying results for the race. The commission chose not to certify those results at its initial canvassing meeting because the 139 ballot discrepancies noted in the region outnumbered the 10-vote margin of victory held by Las Vegas City Councilman Anthony’s Democratic opponent Ross Miller, a former secretary of state.

Miller filed a suit against the county after the decision not to certify, which he said exceeded the board’s “authority under law.” Anthony is an intervening plaintiff in the case. 

The candidate’s motion for preliminary injunction referenced a stipulation agreed to by the county that the board would not proceed with a special election until the court made a decision. Anthony said that preventing the county from reversing its certification decision would also violate that stipulation which was the motion said was intended to “preserve the status quo.”

Anthony’s attorney, former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, argued at Monday’s hearing that comments made by Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria showed that an effective election had been “prevented” in the district because of ballot discrepancies.

“As a result [of the discrepancies], I cannot certify that the vote is an accurate representation of the will of the voters in that district,” Gloria said in the affidavit. “In my professional opinion as an election official, it raises a reasonable doubt as to the outcome of the election.”

Hutchinson said that these discrepancies entitle Anthony and District C voters to a new election according to NRS 293.465 which says that a new election is appropriate if “an election is prevented in any precinct or district by reason of the loss or destruction of the ballots intended for that precinct, or any other cause.”

However, Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez did not agree that ballot discrepancies qualified as “cause” under the statute.

Ballot discrepancies can occur when voters cast multiple ballots, when check-in numbers at voting sites don’t match up with the number of ballots cast at that site or as a result of various mail-in ballot issues. Gloria previously said that these discrepancies occur in every election.

Without an injunction from the court, the Clark County Commission will meet on Tuesday to canvass results in the District C race and discuss certification.

Special election plans on hold in Clark County Commission race decided by 10 votes

November 20th, 2020 - 4:11pm

Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez heard from both parties involved in Democrat Ross Miller’s lawsuit against Clark County on Friday to determine what is needed as evidence in the case and to set a date for the next hearing. 

Miller is suing the county after the Clark County Commission decided not to certify the results of the commission District C election which Miller won by 10 votes. The decision came after Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria identified 139 discrepancies in ballots cast in the district, which county leaders said was a margin that could cast doubt on the ultimate result.

During the short conference on Friday, Gonzalez granted a request by Miller’s attorney Dominic Gentile to include a deposition of Gloria of less than three hours as evidence in the hearing. Additionally, county counsel Mary-Anne Miller agreed to a stipulation by Gentile that the Clark County Commission will not take any action to hold the special election until after the suit is settled.

Additionally, Republican former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, attorney for Ross Miller’s Republican opponent Stavros Anthony, intervened in the case. Although Gentile objected to Hutchison’s intervention, Gonzalez overruled his objection and allowed Hutchison to intervene and represent Anthony’s interests in the suit.

A date was not set for the next hearing, but all parties were directed to meet independently to determine a date and report that date back to Gonzalez the week of Nov. 30.

Unsuccessful GOP Assembly candidate sues for re-vote in Clark County, hits procedural bumps

November 20th, 2020 - 11:42am

The lawyer for a Republican Assembly candidate who is calling for a new election over concerns about a signature verification machine and other matters said he will withdraw the complaint and file it another way after a judge found procedural faults with the case.

The lawsuit was filed in Clark County District Court by Republican Cherlyn Arrington, who lost her race in Assembly District 21 to Democrat Elaine Marzola by 1,197 votes or four percentage points. But county attorney Mary-Anne Miller argued in a Friday hearing that the case, argued by attorney Craig Mueller, was coming in the wrong forum, and should be filed as an election contest with the Legislature. 

“I have serious concerns about your claims, Mr. Mueller, especially the fact that you are essentially contesting an election at this stage, which doesn’t seem to be appropriate without going through some additional hoops,” said Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez.

Mueller said he would withdraw the case and re-file it as an election dispute. The county expects to file a motion to dismiss on the current complaint if it’s not withdrawn or any amended complaint Mueller files; a status check on the matter is set for Dec. 4 with Gonzalez presiding.

Arrington’s lawsuit cites concerns about a machine that verifies signatures on ballots — an argument that has appeared in a handful of recent Republican lawsuits — and questions she received from voters wondering about their provisional ballot status. Gonzalez said she didn’t want to rehash matters that Carson City District Court Judge James Wilson reviewed in a lengthy hearing before Election Day before ultimately deciding they were not enough to justify pausing the ballot counting process.

"I'm not looking to just look at what Judge Wilson already did,” Gonzalez said.

Mueller argued that Wilson’s decision was prospective — ahead of Election Day — and this challenge came as "we are in the cleaning-of-the-car-wreck phase of the case. Brooms and dustpans are out."

He also argued that there were 8,000 new voter registrations in the district in three to four months leading up to the election, saying that must have been "error or malfeasance.” But it’s unclear exactly how Mueller arrived at the number; secretary of state records show there were 40,048 voters in October, up from a low this year of 34,730 in February, which is a difference of 5,359.

Arrington’s is at least the sixth lawsuit filed by losing Republican candidates in the past few days seeking to scrap the election results over alleged irregularities. Others were filed by state Senate candidate April Becker, congressional candidates Dan Rodimer and Jim Marchant, President Donald Trump, and former U.S. Senate candidate and conservative activist Sharron Angle.

Several of the lawsuits were up for court hearings on Friday.

Arrington’s suit brings up several arguments, including that the District C Clark County Commission race — in which Democrat Ross Miller won by 10 votes out of more than 150,000 cast — had irregularities that prompted commissioners to pursue a special election. 

She also indicates that in state Senate District 6, where Democrat Nicole Cannizzaro won by 631 votes, canvassers affiliated with the conservative group Citizen Outreach Foundation and who visited 57 addresses reported speaking to people at about one-third of those who weren’t the same people a ballot was sent to or who said they did not receive a mail ballot.

Arrington acknowledges that District 21 does not overlap with Commission District C, but provided as exhibits a handful emails she received from voters with a variety of complaints, including two — from Nov. 7 and Nov. 11 — wondering why the secretary of state’s website still lists their vote as provisional and one voter reporting that someone called to say his vote may not have counted.

Clark County issued a warning this week that third parties were contacting voters and indicating their votes may not have counted. County officials advised that only the county election department or the secretary of state are reliable sources on that information.

The secretary of state’s office also indicated that vote history information on the SOS website is generally not updated until election results are certified, meaning that they were likely not current until this week.

A county spokesman pushed back on the allegations in the suit.

“Once again we see a complaint that repeats allegations the courts have already rejected, and parrots erroneous allegations made by partisans without first-hand knowledge of the facts," said spokesman Dan Kulin.

Cherlyn Arrington Lawsuit by Michelle Rindels on Scribd

Ford appointed to leadership position in national Democratic attorneys general group

November 19th, 2020 - 5:00am

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford is being named co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

Ford will serve alongside DAGA’s current co-chair, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, in the group dedicated to supporting Democratic Party candidates in attorney general races across the nation. The group helps fund Democratic candidates and also runs independent ads, including in Ford’s narrow 2018 victory over Republican challenger Wes Duncan.

“We are the party committed to voting rights, ensuring equal access to the ballot box, and combatting efforts to delegitimize our democratic institutions,” Ford said in a statement. “In the years ahead, we will support and elect strong Democratic leaders to Attorneys General offices nationwide who share these values, protect their most vulnerable constituents, and fight for the people.”

Ford was previously named to the group’s executive committee after his 2018 election. Nationwide, Democrats control 25 state attorney general offices.

Sharron Angle-backed group files emergency request for court to block certification of election results over alleged voter fraud

November 16th, 2020 - 6:16pm

A group backed by conservative activist and one-time U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle has filed an emergency request to block certification of Nevada’s 2020 election results over a myriad of voter fraud allegations.

The motion was filed Monday in Clark County District Court by Angle and the Election Integrity Project of Nevada (a vote-monitoring organization led by Angle) seeking an emergency injunction against the state barring it from certifying the results of the general election and ordering a new election, over a wide variety of voter fraud claims.

Angle and the group filed a similar lawsuit in September, seeking a stop to Nevada’s planned expansion of mail-in ballots ahead of the 2020 election, but that request was rejected by both a District Court judge and the state Supreme Court, which said the group failed to provide any “concrete evidence” that the expanded mail voting plan would result in voter fraud.

But in the new motion filed on Monday, an attorney for the group said that it had found “extensive evidence” of voter fraud in the state’s 2020 election, claiming that was grounds for an immediate injunction as the supposed prevalence of voter fraud deprived legitimate voters of their right to vote.

The lawsuit states that the Election Integrity Project group had identified 1,411 individuals who had been registered to vote in Nevada, then moved to California, registered to vote there, but then voted in the Nevada election. It also said it had identified a list of more than 8,000 voters who had not voted since 2010, and stated that volunteers fanned out to many of those addresses to find that many of the individuals no longer lived at the addresses.

The group’s attorney, Joel Hansen, wrote that those things were evidence of “very loose and ineffective controls against the commission of fraud in the election.”

“There is no way to know, under these circumstances, what the actual vote count should have been — when systemic fraud corrupts the whole election, the only remedy is for the court to void this election and order that a new election be held,” he wrote.

Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria told members of the Clark County Commission on Monday that he had identified 936 “discrepancies” among votes cast countywide, including things like inadvertently canceled votes, reactivated voter cards and check-in errors at polling places. More than 974,000 votes were cast in Clark County for the 2020 election.

Major Nevada counties certified their vote totals on Monday in what’s known as a canvass, but the statewide approval of votes will occur on Nov. 24 by the state Supreme Court. Once that happens, Nevada’ six electoral votes for president will be cast by individuals appointed by the state Democratic Party during a meeting on Dec. 14 in Carson City.

Jara: Remote learning, staff telecommuting to remain through the end of first semester

November 16th, 2020 - 5:55pm

Staff telecommuting and remote learning will continue the rest of this semester in the Clark County School District, per a message Monday evening from Superintendent Jesus Jara.

The announcement follows a Clark County School Board meeting Thursday that resulted in no action on the district’s 205-page transition plan to in-person learning. The board opted to table a vote given surging coronavirus cases and Gov. Steve Sisolak’s plea for Nevada residents to stay home as much as possible right now.

Jara previously had indicated the transition plan could come before the trustees as soon as their Dec. 10 meeting, but that timeline appears pushed back again. The superintendent’s message on Monday noted that staff would bring the transition plan to trustees “in early January 2021 for their consideration.”

The new timeline means the reopening decision will fall to a largely revamped school board. Three newly elected trustees — Lisa Guzman, Katie Williams and Evelyn Garcia Morales — will be sworn into their new roles at the Jan. 4 school board meeting. They will be replacing, respectively, Deanna Wright, Chris Garvey and Linda Young, who are termed out at the end of this year. 

Board President Lola Brooks won reelection in the general election, so she will be returning for a second term.

During a media call on Friday, Jara said negotiations regarding the transition plan continued with the Clark County Education Association, which is the bargaining unit for teachers. He also said the plan would remain a hybrid model because of health and safety guidelines, but staff would be making tweaks based on school board and community feedback.

Recall Sisolak group far short of required signatures halfway through 90-day signature-gathering period

Sisolak speaks during press conference
November 11th, 2020 - 11:31am

One of the four groups attempting a longshot bid to recall Gov. Steve Sisolak appears to be falling far short of collecting enough signatures to qualify the recall, according to a halfway-point update provided to the Nevada secretary of state’s office.

The group, Battle Born Patriots, has reported collecting 31,850 signatures halfway through the 90-day signature-collecting period. The group filed a notice of intent to recall Sisolak on Sept. 3 and needs 243,995 signatures to get to the next stage of the recall process — meaning it needs to collect more than 212,000 signatures by Dec. 3 to qualify the recall effort.

A spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office said it has not received a 45-day update from another group (called “Save Nevada - Recall Steve Sisolak”) that also filed an intent to recall the governor on Sept. 3. Another two organizations have registered as political action committees with the stated intent of recalling Sisolak, but have not yet filed any formal paperwork to do so.

In order to qualify a recall petition, supporters need to collect verified signatures from 25 percent of the voters who cast a ballot in the last election of the targeted office-holder within a 90-day period. For Sisolak, that means the minimum number of verified signatures needed to qualify the recall is 243,995.

The required 45-day update is not cross-checked or verified by state or county election officials — that process only happens if the recall group turns in the necessary number of signatures by the deadline. 

A previous attempt to recall Sisolak by a group called "Fight for Nevada" only gathered around 33,000 signatures after the statutory 90-day period to collect signatures. It sued in federal court for a time extension, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown orders, but the request was denied by a federal judge.

Nationwide, successful recalls against governors are rare. In the last century, just three governors have been recalled and forced to run in a special election.

As Supreme Court set to hear Affordable Care Act case, open enrollment begins on Nevada’s health insurance exchange

An Ipad with showing the health link website
November 2nd, 2020 - 12:43pm

Though the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act next week, Nevada’s health insurance exchange isn’t anticipating any impact on next year’s policies.

Instead, exchange officials are urging people to get enrolled during a 75-day open enrollment period that started on Sunday, cautioning against going without insurance coverage in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s open enrollment period runs through Jan. 15, with people who enroll before 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31 slated to have their coverage begin on Jan. 1, while coverage for those who enroll later will start on Feb. 1.

“All of our plans are Affordable Care Act compliant, they cover 10 essential health benefits such as mental health, pregnancy, childbirth, prescription drugs, and emergency services, including the coverage of all pre-existing conditions,” Heather Korbulic, the exchange’s executive director, said during a press conference on Monday. “And importantly, they cover a COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment. There is no need to purchase any additional plan.”

This year, Nevadans will be able to choose between 50 plans, nearly double the number of options available in past years, across five health insurance companies: Health Plan of Nevada, Silver Summit, Anthem, Friday Health Plans and Select Health. Though health plan rates have increased about 4.2 percent this year, exchange officials have noted that those who qualify for assistance in purchasing their plans will also see increases to their subsidies.

“Most of our consumers will have very minimal, if any, premium cost increases,” Korbulic said.

She added that a ruling on the latest lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act lawsuit, which has been winding its way through the federal court system since early 2018, isn’t anticipated until several months into 2021. In the lawsuit, a coalition of Republican state attorneys general have argued that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which Congress passed in 2017, rendered the ACA unconstitutional by zeroing out the ACA’s tax penalty on individuals who don’t have health insurance.

“We do not anticipate any impacts on plan year 2021,” Korbulic said.

Last year, Nevada asked to join the coalition of states defending the Affordable Care Act in the lawsuit. Attorney General Aaron Ford, on Monday, said that seniors, women and low-income individuals, among others, would be hurt if the ACA is overturned.

“We are in fact, as I've indicated, dedicated to ensuring that your health is protected,” Ford said.

Trump campaign accuses Clark County of “restricting observers,” calls for changes to vote-counting process

October 21st, 2020 - 5:50pm

The Nevada Republican Party and President Donald Trump’s campaign are condemning Clark County election officials for “restricting observers” in a way that prevents poll watchers from “meaningfully observing the process,” but state Democrats call the complaints an attempt to “suppress voter turnout.”

A letter sent Tuesday to Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske asserts that Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria “failed to timely submit” an accommodation plan for election observers as Nevada statutes require. It also alleges that observers are being prohibited from entering areas where ballots are being handled and reviewed, impeding their ability to fully observe the counting process and preventing transparency.

State Republicans made it clear that if its criticisms of the county process are not addressed, a lawsuit is a possibility, saying in a release on Wednesday that the Nevada Republican Party is “prepared to remedy this issue in court.”

In a statement on Thursday, Clark County Election Department spokesperson Dan Kulin said the letter featured “many misleading or inaccurate claims,” and that the department has “gone above and beyond” to provide election observers access.

One of the areas that the letter said the department had not allowed observers access to was the call center. Kulin clarified that the call center is not utilized for counting, and no ballots are brought to the room. Instead, staff in the call center answer calls from voters who need to “cure,” or correct the signature on, their ballots.

“This means that staff may be discussing personal information, such as birth date and the last four numbers of their social security number, with the voter on the phone,” Kulin said. “Legally, we must prevent the public from being able to collect that personal information.”

Party officials and the Trump campaign also went after the counting process itself in the letter, saying procedures used by the Clark County Counting Board to review ballots and ensure they’ve been filled out properly and can be counted prevents those ballots from remaining secret. Once a counting board member reviews a ballot, that ballot is placed back in an envelope with a voter’s identifying information in it.

They argued that this could potentially allow county officials who do not agree with the voter’s decision to invalidate the ballot without cause. The Republicans requested that the system be altered so that identifying envelopes are no longer associated with a ballot once opened.

“Given these issues, we would ask that your office issue a clarification notice to Clark County (and all counties) that, once received, a ballot cannot be placed back in its original envelope but should merely be placed in ‘an envelope,’” the letter says.

The Nevada Democratic Party criticized the move by state Republicans, calling it a part of their “quest to cast doubt on the integrity of our election system.”

“After losing their lawsuit, they are now focused on yet another blatant attempt to suppress voter turnout,” said party spokesperson Madison Mundy. “But it won’t work. Nevadans see through this desperation and are casting their ballots by mail — and we are going to make sure their votes are counted.”

Kulin said that the letter inaccurately described the ballot counting process, and that ballots are separated from return envelopes, which are then moved to a secure location before ballots are removed from privacy sleeves.

“When the ballot is being reviewed, there is no voter-identifying information connected to that ballot,” he said. “At no time is the envelope with the voter’s name sought or used in this step of the process.”

As of Wednesday in Clark County, 124,941 ballots have been cast by mail, nearly 61 percent of total ballots cast in the region. Statewide, 231,935 mail-in ballots have been cast, 64 percent of total ballots.

The letter also said that the county has rejected multiple requests made by the Nevada Republican Party to place cameras in polling sites and counting areas that could live stream the ballot handling process, thereby preventing limits on the number of observers. The state party had offered to pay for those cameras, the letter said.

Photographs and recordings by the general public are prohibited within polling places, but ballot counting is allowed to be recorded by the county, and Nevada statutes do allow for observers to request those photographs, recordings, or video reproductions of the counting process at central counting locations.

Kulin pointed to the prohibition of cameras at polling places as one reason the request had not been granted, but also stated that it would be “inappropriate” for one political party to have “exclusive control” of any cameras or recordings at a polling site.

Updated on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 2:13 p.m. to include a statement from the Clark County Election Department.

EMILY’s List announces ‘historic’ $250,000 investment to keep the Legislature blue

October 21st, 2020 - 7:00am

EMILY’s List, the pro-choice women's political advocacy group, has invested more than a quarter of a million dollars into competitive Nevada legislative races this cycle with the goal of keeping the Legislature in Democratic hands.

The organization has spent $256,100 this cycle in direct contributions to lawmakers, candidates and Democratic legislative caucuses, including $150,000 to the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus. EMILY’s List also contributed $15,500 to the Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus and $10,000 each to Democratic candidates in several competitive Assembly races.

According to EMILY’s List, it is the largest financial investment the organization has made in legislative races in Nevada in an effort to “increase and diversify women’s leadership across the country.”

“With early voting in full swing and so much at stake for health care and redistricting in 2021, we are confident that our historic investment will make the difference in the final push toward Election Day and once again help get our women over the finish line,” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, said in a statement.

In total, the organization has endorsed 21 pro-choice Democratic female legislative candidates in Nevada this cycle, including five in Senate races, Kristee Watson in District 5, Senate Democratic Leader Nicole Cannizzaro in District 6, Roberta Lange in District 7, Sen. Dallas Harris in District 11 and Wendy Jauregui-Jackins in District 15.

In the Assembly, EMILY’s List is backing 16 candidates: Radhika Kunnel in District 2, Assemblywoman Connie Munk in District 4, Assemblywoman Brittney Miller in District 5, Shondra Summers-Armstrong in District 6, Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen in District 10, Assemblywoman Bea Duran in District 11, Cecelia González in District 16, Clara Thomas in District 17, Venicia Considine in District 18, Elaine Marzola in District 21, Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen in District 29, Natha Anderson in District 30, Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow in District 35, Assemblywoman Shea Backus in District 37 and Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui in District 41.

Two years ago, Nevada became the first state in the nation to have a female-majority Legislature. Of the 63 lawmakers who serve in the Senate and Assembly, 33 are women.

Women are likely to hold at least 36 seats in the Legislature next year, either because they are running with a party that has an overwhelming voter registration advantage in their district, face no opponents, are not up for re-election or both candidates in a competitive race are women.

US Attorney Trutanich appoints prosecutor to lead election oversight, fraud prevention

October 16th, 2020 - 1:18pm

U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada Nick Trutanich has announced the special appointment of a top deputy to spearhead the office’s Election Day program to oversee any complaints of election fraud and voting rights concerns.

Trutanich announced Friday that Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie Mickelson has been appointed to serve as the District Election Officer (DEO) for the District of Nevada, a position to monitors= election procedures and take complaints from members of the public about potential voting crimes, as well as serving as a federal liaison for local election officials 

“Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination and to have that vote counted without it being stolen because of fraud,” Trutanich said in a statement. “The Department of Justice will always act appropriately to protect the integrity of the election process.”

Mickelson was appointed by Trutanich in March as the office’s dedicated COVID-19 fraud coordinator. The role of District Election Officer in 2016 was fulfilled by then-assistant U.S. Attorney Carla Higginbotham.

On Election Day, the District Election Officer typically works with the secretary of state’s Election Integrity Task Force, a working group of election officials and law enforcement that work to respond and enforce election laws in the state. The task force was created in 2008.

Members of the public can reach Mickelson while polls are open at 702-388-6336. The local FBI field office can be reached at 702-385-1281.

Federal law enforcement announces charges against 10 people for $1.2 million in unemployment fraud

Nicholas A. Trutanich, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada and Ray Johnson, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation
October 15th, 2020 - 3:17pm

Federal officials announced six criminal complaints against people accused of defrauding unemployment systems in Nevada, Arizona and California of some $1.2 million, including a Las Vegas postal worker who allegedly facilitated a scheme.

Nevada U.S. Attorney Nick Trutanich and representatives of other federal agencies including the FBI and the Secret Service held a press conference in Las Vegas on Thursday to announce 14 felony charges against 10 different people.

“The U.S. attorney's office and law enforcement is turning the heat up on unemployment fraudsters,” Trutanich said. “Today's announcement should send a strong message to those would-be fraudsters: Stop trying to exploit the system, and your greed is harming Nevadans."

One complaint charged a postal carrier for conspiring with a Las Vegas man who was charged earlier this year when some two dozen unemployment debit cards in other people’s names were found at his home. The postal worker allegedly tipped off the man through WhatsApp messages about postal boxes that were seldom checked and would be good places to direct correspondence from unemployment claims filed fraudulently and worth some $460,000.

“The American public trusts that Postal Service employees will obey the law and honor the commitment to their duties,” said John Masters of the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG). “When that duty and trust is violated, as it was in this case, the Postal Service OIG investigates those matters.”

A second complaint involved three defendants apprehended in August in a rented Maserati who were found with California unemployment debit cards approved for a quarter million dollars in benefits, as well as $45,000 in cash. The defendants were allegedly gambling in Nevada casinos.

A third complaint stemmed from a September traffic stop Las Vegas police made on a Mercedes Benz. Two Florida men were found with at least 17 California unemployment debit cards in the names of other people that were approved for some $385,000 in benefits.

Fraud has been a major cause cited by officials with the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) for monthslong delays in paying certain claimants, particularly within the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for gig workers and the self-employed. DETR announced on Thursday that it was denying more than 217,000 of the nearly half a million initial PUA claims filed so far, saying the agency has been unable to verify identities for a large number of applications. 

Critics, however, have said the fraud has become an excuse for processing the claims so slowly.

Trutanich concluded the press conference without taking questions "because these investigations are ongoing and there's more to come." 

The $1.2 million allegedly diverted because of the fraud announced Thursday is small compared with the volume of money DETR has paid out this year. Across all programs, the state has disbursed about $7 billion this calendar year in state and federal benefits.

Cortez Masto unveils bill to help hospitality, travel and tourism industries

October 15th, 2020 - 8:00am

The convention and hospitality industries would get a boost from a bill introduced by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto that, among other things, would create a tax credit for the cost of attending or hosting a convention, business meeting or trade show between 2021 and 2023.

With an economy dependent on leisure and hospitality, the state was hit hard by the closure of nonessential businesses imposed by Gov. Steve Sisolak in March to help keep the coronavirus from spreading.

Leisure and hospitality accounted for a quarter of workers in Nevada in 2019, according to an analysis released Wednesday from Pew

Nevada has since recovered about two-thirds of the leisure and hospitality jobs it lost between February and April, but the state’s gaming revenue remained down 22 percent over the year in August and recent sales tax collections were down 18 percent in May and 4 percent in June, the analysis said.

The bill is designed to help those industries recover as the state reopens.

Cortez Masto introduced the bill with Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, who sits on the Senate Banking Committee with Cortez Masto. The Nevada Democrat also sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees the nation’s tax laws.

Along with a tax credit for conventions and trade shows, the bill would also establish a tax credit for restaurants or food service businesses to cover the cost of reopening or increasing service at an establishment forced to close down or scale back operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes any renovation, remediation, testing or labor cost needed to prevent the spread of the virus. The credit would be effective between the date of enactment and run through 2022.

Another tax credit would be created to encourage middle-class travel. The bill also would restore changes to the deductibility of entertainment expenses repealed by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The measure is supported by a raft of interest groups, including the Nevada Resort Association, the U.S. Travel Association, the American Gaming Association and the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

The bill comes as talks on another broad pandemic-recovery package appear to have stalled. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he intends to hold a procedural vote on a roughly $500 billion proposal next week. But Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have pushed for at least a $2.2 trillion package. And President Donald Trump has called for a $1.8 trillion measure. 

In six-figure ad buy, Horsford targets Republican challenger Marchant on ACA repeal, pre-existing conditions

Republican congressional candidate Jim Marchant at a rally in support of law enforcement organized by the Nevada Republican Party on Thursday, July 30, 2020 outside the Legislature in Carson City.
October 14th, 2020 - 8:00am

In a six-figure TV advertising push launched Wednesday, incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford took aim at his District 4 challenger, former one-term Assemblyman Jim Marchant, for his support for Republican plans to roll back Obama-era health laws. 

Using a testimonial from a nurse who identifies herself as Ralaya Allen, the 30-second spot accuses Marchant of favoring the elimination of protections for pre-existing conditions and the imposition of an “age tax on seniors” that would “[cripple] Nevada families.” 

Allen goes on to praise Horsford and his positions on health care, including the protection of insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions and support for reduced prescription drug prices, as well as his support for additional job training investments. 

Though no sources are cited by the ad, it appears to be criticizing Marchant’s position in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act, which became a political lightning rod in 2017 and 2018 following repeated attempts by congressional Republicans to “repeal and replace” the controversial health care law. 

Marchant told The Nevada Independent in May that, though he supported a free-market health care system, he also would support continued protections for coverage with pre-existing conditions and that an ACA replacement bill should be “ready to go” before the law is repealed.

His position echoes that of the broader GOP, as Republicans nationwide — especially those in the most competitive races — have increasingly pushed for the protections of pre-existing conditions even in the face of a proposed ACA repeal that would do away with those protections. 

Such messaging fights have come as the future of the ACA remains in doubt. The Supreme Court will soon decide on a Texas-led case challenging the law on the grounds it was made moot by the effective removal of its controversial tax penalties under the Republicans’ 2017 tax law. 

The second claim made by the ad, that Marchant would support the imposition of an “age tax,” appears to be a reference to a Republican-proposed replacement health care plan from 2017 that would have allowed insurers to charge those over age 50 vastly more than younger adults. 

At the time, the AARP attacked the provision as an “age tax.”

Watch the ad below. For a listing of all ads run during the 2020 election, visit our Ad Tracker here

Koch-backed groups targeting key legislative races, congressional seat in final weeks of election

October 14th, 2020 - 2:00am

Americans for Prosperity Action and the LIBRE Initiative Action, two political advocacy organizations backed by billionaire Charles Koch, announced on Wednesday a six-figure investment this cycle into four competitive legislative races and a key congressional seat in Nevada.

The two libertarian advocacy groups will focus their efforts on boosting state Sen. Heidi Gansert’s re-election campaign in Senate District 15 — a key seat in Democrats’ quest to secure a supermajority in the Senate — and flipping three legislative seats held by Democrats. The candidates in those races are April Becker in Senate District 6, Andy Matthews in Assembly District 37 and Steven DeLisle in Assembly District 29.

The organizations are also backing Republican Dan Rodimer’s campaign in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District against Democratic Rep. Susie Lee.

“These candidates have the vision and political courage we need to help empower communities, bolster our economy, and make reforms to our education and health care systems,” Juan Martinez, a senior adviser for Americans for Prosperity Action, said in a statement. “We are proud to support candidates who have an agenda to defend and advance policies that have long expanded opportunity across our state.”

The two groups plan to focus their investment, which they say is in the mid-six figures, on multiple rounds of mailers, digital ads, phone banking and door knocking. While President Donald Trump’s campaign has been in the field in Nevada since June and Joe Biden’s campaign recently started door-knocking, fewer third-party groups are out in the field this cycle amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The LIBRE Initiative Action efforts will be in English and Spanish. 

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