Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2014

Currently: 82° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Secretary of state is a nonpartisan position, but the race for it is not

While in office, the secretary of state is Nevada’s nonpartisan election watchdog.

But in campaign season, partisanship takes over.

Click to enlarge photo

Nevada Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, listens to colleagues pay tribute to her 18 years of public service during a Senate floor session on the final day of the 77th Legislative session at the Legislative Building in Carson City on Monday, June 3, 2013.

Click to enlarge photo

Nevada Treasurer Kate Marshall testifies at the Legislature in Carson City on March 2, 2011.

About the job

• Nevada's current secretary of state is Ross Miller. He is a Democrat, the son of former Gov. Bob Miller and was the youngest secretary of state in the country when elected. Term limits prevent him from running for a third term, but he is a candidate for state attorney general.

• The secretary of state typically is his or her state’s main election official, registering candidates, monitoring contributions and overseeing regulations. Most also register businesses and nonprofit groups.

• Most secretaries of state are elected, typically for four-year terms. In a few states, they are appointed by the governor or state legislature.

• The longest-serving secretary of state was Thad Eure, of North Carolina, who served from 1936 to 1989.

• Don't think the secretary of state matters? Remember the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush? Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris decided that race by ruling that Bush won.

The Nevada secretary of state race is part of a national debate on election law that’s drawing attention and contributions from national political action committees. Democrats say Republicans are proposing election reforms that would repress minority, low-income and elderly voters. Republicans say Democrats are turning a blind eye to malfeasance to win votes.

The winner in Nevada’s Nov. 4 election will enforce laws passed by the state Legislature but also have a chance to propose new laws as a member of the executive branch.

“It is a really good position to advocate and influence a decision and direction,” said Frankie Sue DelPapa, a former Nevada secretary of state and attorney general.

BIG MONEY MOVING TO STATE RACES

Secretary of state races don’t drive campaign spending like congressional or gubernatorial campaigns. But that’s starting to change.

With Congress at a perpetual impasse, outside groups with deep pockets have turned their attention to state races. And they may be in Nevada soon.

For secretary of state races, the left-leaning group is SOS for Democracy and the right-leaning version is SOS for SOS.

“This is a discovery by national groups that a lot less money can get a lot more done at the state level,” said Peter Quist, research director for the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Quist predicts that, on average, the total cost of campaigns for secretary of state will reach $700,000 per state this fall.

Neither Democrat Kate Marshall nor Republican Barbara Cegavske reported contributions from either national group. But both campaigns are expecting to raise money from the outside groups before November.

As of June, Marshall had raised $420,000. Cegavske had received $193,000. Nevada’s next contribution reports are due in October.

THE CANDIDATES

Kate Marshall, Democrat: Marshall, 55, served two four-year terms as state treasurer; her current term ends in January. She worked as an antitrust lawyer with the U.S. Justice Department and in-house counsel for a telecommunications company. She ran for Congress in a 2011 special election to fill Republican John Ensign’s seat but lost to Republican Mark Amodei.

Barbara Cegavske, Republican: Cegavske, 62, served three four-year terms in the state Senate and three two-year terms in the Assembly. She owned a convenience store for 13 years before selling it in 1996. She is a current member of the legislative operations and elections committee and a former assistant Senate minority leader.

THE ISSUES

• Voter ID: Nevada is among 19 states (as well as Washington, D.C.) that do not require voters to show identification at the polls. Republicans have talked about introducing voter ID laws to ensure that voters are who they say they are. Democrats say the law may prevent eligible voters from casting ballots.

Marshall opposes the voter ID law and called Nevada’s elections “secure.”

Cegavske “does not oppose” a voter ID law. If one passed, Cegavske said she would work with registered voters who believe they are hindered by ID laws. “I am not trying to repress voters,” she said.

• Same-day voter registration: Also known as election-day registration, 11 states and Washington D.C., legalized it, and Nevada was on the verge of doing so in 2013. A bill passed the Democrat-controlled Legislature, but Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it.

Marshall supports same-day registration because it allows for participation when voters are most aware of an election, on Election Day.

Cegavske said election officials would be pressed for time to verify residency and citizenship status before allowing a voter to cast a ballot the same day. “Same-day registration is not the answer,” she said. “People have all year to register to vote.”

• Early voting: Nevada is one of 36 states (plus Washington, D.C.) where voters cast ballots in the weeks leading up to an election. Three years ago, Cegavske and a group of lawmakers proposed a bill to eliminate early voting.

Marshall is an advocate of early voting and said it keeps Nevada’s pocketbook and voters happy. “If there is $5 million extra lying around, we should be solving problems we have, not addressing problems we don’t have,” Marshall said.

Cegavske said she authored the bill because she thought it would save taxpayers money. She supports early voting. When it came to light that early voting saves taxpayers $5 million a year (single-day voting is more expensive because extra voting machines are needed to eliminate long lines on Election Day), the bill died.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy