Las Vegas Sun

October 6, 2022

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North Las Vegas election battle takes on increasingly partisan hue

The temporarily restrained special election in a disputed precinct for a North Las Vegas council race that was decided by one vote is starting to look less like a battle over a nonpartisan office than one between the major parties.

The lawyers involved – Bradley Schrager and Mark Hutchison – are not coincidentally the same barristers doing battle for the parties over redistricting. Schrager is the lawyer for the state Democratic Party and represents Richard Cherchio, the incumbent who lost the election by one vote on June 7. Hutchison has represented the GOP in several cases, including the federal health care repeal fight, and his client is Mike Montandon, the former Republican mayor of North Las Vegas and failed GOP gubernatorial contender who sued on behalf of Wade Wagner, the winner on election day.

It’s somewhat humorous that Wagner, a Republican nevertheless backed by public employee unions furious with Cherchio’s votes on their contracts and layoffs, is now being embraced as a Republican cause while also being advised by longtime Democratic consultant Dan Hart. Now that is a strange dynamic.

Meanwhile, Cherchio is getting help from his campaign manager Bradley Mayer, he of Goodman-dynasty-continues fame, and Schrager, the crack Jones Vargas attorney who knows election laws and uses them to help Democrats.

Wagner sued the council after some members aligned with Cherchio called for a new election, going against the advice of the lawyer they hired, Matt Griffin, to first canvass the vote, which is what the agenda said and thus allowed Montandon to raise Open Meeting Law questions. The council was set to move forward Thursday evening with the planning for the election in Precinct 4306 when Montandon succeeded in garnering a temporary restraining order from Judge Allan Earl -- I have posted it at right. Montandon not only lives in the precinct and is a Republican; he’s also aligned with his successor, Shari Buck, who helped Wagner in his campaign against her colleague, Cherchio.

Ah, the ugly morass of North Las Vegas politics. Or, as one wag put it, invoking Roman Polanski’s classic, “Forget it, Jake; it’s Chinatown.”

(There is also a coincidental Mormon component to this ongoing fight, too. Wagner is LDS. So is Montandon. So is Earl.)

“Mike Montandon doesn't care about open meetings, he cares about helping his friend maintain a discredited one-vote margin and stopping the voters of North Las Vegas from getting a proper election result at the polls,” Schrager told me this morning. “His suit is irresponsible and motivated solely by politics. Remember that the next time he or anyone from Wagner's camp complains about the cost or inconvenience of the new election—their conduct is both driving up the City's costs and distracting from the pursuit of a fair and democratic election.”

Of course, at this point, most everything in this is motivated by politics and the goal of politics: Winning. This surely will get worse before it gets better.

It’s a difficult conundrum to resolve. A guy loses an election by one vote and then election officials find one vote was cast in error. Clearly, the result is now in doubt – if that person voted for Wagner, the election actually is a tie. You can’t force that voter to give up his secret ballot rights – and even if he said something, it’s not necessarily gospel.

So what do you do, and how do you make it fair?

Clearly, Wagner does not want a revote in a precinct that is heavily Democratic (by almost 4-to-1) and where an increased turnout almost certainly dooms him. So what then? An entirely new election? Perhaps.

One result is patently unfair: Letting the result stand. If the numbers were reversed, so, too, would the attitudes of the candidates and their newfound partisan backers.

But every alternative is fraught with fairness questions – and with the political overlay of the council dynamics and the partisan concerns, this surely will not end after Earl holds a hearing next week.

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