Published Thursday, May 19, 2011 | 4:29 p.m.
Updated Thursday, May 19, 2011 | 5:34 p.m.
CARSON CITY — A district judge sided today with the Republican Party, ruling against a free-for-all special election to fill the 2nd Congressional District seat of Rep. Dean Heller, who was elevated to the U.S. Senate.
After a more than two-hour hearing, District Judge Todd Russell ruled the major parties have time to hold conventions and nominate one candidate to appear on the ballot.
Russell said his decision will most likely be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Democrats sought to uphold Secretary of State Ross Miller’s decision that the race would be open to as many candidates who file.
CD2 covers a slice of Clark County and the rest of Nevada. No Democrat has ever won the seat.
Democrats pushed for the open field on grounds that Republicans might split the party votes, giving a Democratic candidate a better chance of carrying the district.
One announced Democrat candidate, Nancy Price, was in the courtroom.
Deputy Attorney General Kevin Benson argued that Miller followed the law in allowing all candidates to file. He said a race in California had 135 candidates on the ballot.
Russell noted that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won that election. “I don’t think you want to go there,” he said, referring to the former governor’s recent troubles.
Russell said Miller had no regulations to go by in deciding the circumstances of a special congressional election.
Marc Elias, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Democrats, argued that Miller’s position should stand.
This is an unusual case, Elias said, and Miller should be permitted to use his discretion to make the system work.
Elias said there is no evidence that the Republican Party has been damaged, and there is nothing to show that voters will be confused by several candidates from the same party on the ballot.
But David O’Mara, a Reno lawyer representing Republicans who sued Miller, said the law requires only one candidate from a major party be placed on the ballot.
O’Mara said it won’t be a “smoke-filled room” if the nomination comes from the party central committee that has hundreds of members.
And Reno lawyer Rew Goodenow, representing Republicans, said Miller’s ruling “deprives the major political parties of the right to nominate their candidates.”
Benson, representing Miller, said the open election should be allowed rather than “giving the power to the party leadership.”
Russell suggested the Legislature alter the law.
“I’m sure we’re going to the Supreme Court,” he said.