by Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
A Republican State Senate candidate is seeking to change Nevada voting laws despite opposition from Democratic lawmakers using an alternative path — a public ballot initiative.
On May 4, Raja Mourey filed a proposed ballot measure with the Nevada Secretary of State. If successful, the statutory ballot measure would require voters to present valid photo identification when voting in local and federal elections. Voters who don’t have a valid ID could request a “special identification document” with the voter’s photo and signature that could only be used for voting purposes.
The ballot initiative is being supported by a political action committee dubbed R.I.S.E. Nevada – Restoring Integrity in State Elections.
Mourey, an insurance agent for American Family Insurance, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. Mourey is running in the GOP primary for State Senate District 8, a blue leaning but competitive district in Clark County.
According to his campaign site, Mourey’s first foray into politics was volunteering for Nevada Sen. John Ensign. Mourey was later appointed by Gov. Kenny Guinn to serve two terms, from 2000-2006, on the Nevada State Board of Accountancy.
State finance reports show Mourey reported $40,800 in contributions to his campaign for State Senate, a chunk of it— $12,550—coming from his own pockets. He reported more than $20,000 in spending, leaving him with about $20,000 cash on hand going into the second quarter.
He is one of the highest funded Republicans in the crowded eight-candidate primary. The victor will face Democratic incumbent Marilyn Dondero Loop in the November general election.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of March 2022, 17 states require a photo ID and 19 states accept photo or non-photo IDs. Nevada is one of 15 states that uses other means — primarily signatures — to verify voters.
In Nevada, citizens can qualify a ballot question by gathering a certain number of signatures — at least 10% of the total number of votes cast in the last general election. This year, that would be nearly 141,000 signatures, or about 35,ooo signatures from each of the state’s four congressional districts.
Signatures for statutory initiatives must be submitted to counties for verification no later than Nov. 23 in order to appear before the 2023 Legislature, which would have 40 days to approve the initiative
If the Legislature approves the initiative, it becomes law. If they reject the initiative or fail to take action, the initiative goes before voters at the next general election, which would be in 2024.
It is unclear how much, if any, financial backing or support the proposed statutory initiative has. Some groups spend upwards of a million dollars defending ballot measures in court and hiring firms to collect signatures.
With less than a year to collect the signatures needed, it may be difficult for Mourey to make the deadline, said Kerry Durmick, the Nevada Director for All Voting is Local.
“While it is unlikely, it is still possible for the advocates of this ballot measure to get the signatures needed in time,” said Durmick. “This is why we must remain vigilant and also continue to speak out about restrictive measures like this one and how they silence voters. People’s votes – and ultimately their voices – are on the line, and we must continue to pay attention.”
Mourey is the second Republican this year to file a voter ID question ballot measure.
Earlier voter id attempt thwarted
In February, North Las Vegas resident David Gibbs filed two ballot measure proposals, one that would have required photo identification for voters, and another to repeal AB321, a bill that made vote-by-mail the standard for elections in Nevada.
Voting advocates represented by the state’s most prominent Democratically-aligned lawyers filed lawsuits against the pair of ballot initiatives. In court filings, lawyers argued the voter ID ballot initiatives violated Nevada law and had the potential to suppress minority voters.
Legal representatives for the cases said systemic voter fraud, as suggested by Gibbs,“has been widely debunked and discredited.”
They noted the only convicted case of voter fraud in Nevada related to the 2020 election was a Republican voter who cast his deceased wife’s mail ballot “in order to create the appearance of voter fraud for political reasons.”
In April, District Court Judge Frances Doherty ruled against the AB31 referendum, finding that the description of the ballot initiative was misleading. Then, District Court Judge William Maddox ruled against the voter ID ballot initiative and ordered that language for the measure be amended, rendering all previously collected signatures invalid.
In an interview with the Nevada Independent, Gibbs acknowledged the rulings made it unlikely that either proposal will make it onto the 2022 ballot.
As for the latest voter ID effort,Bradley Schrager of Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin LLP – the attorney who filed the two lawsuits against Gibbs’ ballot proposals – said he wasn’t sure if his firm would take action against the new measure proposed by Mourey.
“I don’t know,” Schrager said in an email, “we’ll see.”
Nevada has a relatively accessible ballot initiative process, making the route attractive for groups pushing reforms that might be unpopular with the state’s majority party.
Another example is Nevada Voters First, which filed a proposed constitutional amendment in November that would bring open primaries and ranked-choice voting to Nevada. Earlier this month, representatives for the coalition said they are on track to meet signature requirements by the June 29 deadline to get on the 2022 general election ballot. That effort is already facing vocal opposition from groups aligned with the Nevada Democratic Party.
The boom in election-related ballot measures comes after the 2020 general election had one of the highest turnout rates in Nevada history.
Despite the popularity of recent voting reforms in Nevada, including universal vote-by-mail, “there has been an ongoing effort in this state (and several others) to suppress voices and depress voter turnout,” Durmick, of All Voting is Local, said.
“We have already seen this with the election resolutions that many are seeking to pass in each of Nevada’s counties,” Durmick said. “These two ballot measure initiatives focused on implementing voter ID requirements are another approach in this effort. Simply put, unnecessarily strict voter identification ballot measures are a part of an ongoing strategy to roll back decades of progress on voting rights.”
Strict photo identification laws can reduce voter turnout, according to a 2014 study by the federal Government Accountability Office. The study found that voter turnout was reduced by 2-3 percentage points in states that adopted strict photo ID laws, “which can translate into tens of thousands of votes lost in a single state,” said Durmick.
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