Monday, June 6, 2011 | 3:25 p.m.
The secretary of state, as the resident expert on Nevada elections, should have the final word on the format for the race to fill the 2nd Congressional District seat, the attorney general and state Democratic Party argued in briefs filed with the Nevada Supreme Court.
The parties are asking the court to overturn a decision by District Judge Todd Russell in Carson City, who held that the central committees of the two major parties should nominate candidates for the Sept. 13 election. The secretary of state had opted for a wide-open special election.
The Supreme Court has requested the Sept. 13 election be delayed to give it more time to consider the issue.
The congressional seat vacancy occurred after Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., resigned and Gov. Brian Sandoval appointed Republican Rep. Dean Heller to succeed him. The district includes a portion of Clark County and the rest of Nevada.
Twenty-five candidates have filed to succeed Heller. The secretary of state, Democrat Ross Miller, has argued that it should be open to all candidates. The Republican Party, however, challenged the decision and won the case in District Court, prompting an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
In briefs filed today, Deputy Attorney General Kevin Benson, representing the secretary of state, said, “Nevada special election laws do not permit major political parties to control who may run in a special election to fill a vacancy in the office of representative in Congress.”
If the court finds the law ambiguous, Benson said it should defer to Miller’s expertise in administrating Nevada election law.
Las Vegas lawyer Bradley Scott Schrager, representing the Democratic Party, argued that if the law had multiple interpretations, “The secretary’s interpretation is reasonable and should be afforded deference. The secretary’s interpretation leads to a commonplace and sensible result.”
Voters in the 2nd Congressional District have never elected a Democrat. And the Democratic Party thinks more candidates in the race will divide Republicans, who hold a majority, giving Democrats a better chance to win.
Benson said the law does not indicate that “party leadership was to be granted exclusive control of the nominating process.”
The Republican Party is to file its brief this week.