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Nevada GOP expects long fight to block state-run presidential primary after 1st attempt is denied

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By GABE STERN Associated Press/Report for America

RENO, Nev. (AP) — After a loss in court this week, Nevada Republican Party leaders say they’re preparing for a long fight to block the state from holding a presidential primary required under a 2-year-old law.

That’s because the party still plans to hold and honor the results of a party-run primary caucus, as they have for decades, to determine which candidate wins the state’s GOP delegates at the party convention, Nevada Republican Party Chair Michael McDonald said.

A Nevada District Court dealt a blow to the party’s efforts this week when it ruled against the state GOP’s request to block the state-run primary, a decision that McDonald said he was expecting. The state GOP is considering an appeal of the Monday ruling from the bench. The judge hasn’t issued a written ruling.

If the party ultimately fails to block the presidential primary, an electoral conundrum could take place in February: both a state-run primary and a party-run caucus in the same time period.

“We’re going to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers money and it’s not going to matter,” McDonald said in an interview Tuesday evening. “We’re literally going to waste millions of dollars on a primary that’s going to silence people’s voices.”

A law signed by then-Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, in 2021 mandates that Nevada hold a presidential primary with state and county election officials organizing the contest. Nevada Democrats have long been in favor of replacing party-run caucuses with state-run primary elections, which are considered easier to participate in than the in-person neighborhood caucus meetings. The 2021 law also was an effort to push Nevada to the front of the primary voting sites nationwide.

But state law does not require the Nevada Republican Party to recognize those results when putting forth a general election candidate.

Caucuses, unlike primary elections, are planned, financed and carried out by private political parties instead of state election officials. Local party members usually divide themselves into groups according to the candidate they support. Those local party members also nominate candidates to represent their political party and voting is public.

Primaries, meanwhile, have voters submit private ballots in elections run by county and state governments.

If both happen simultaneously and the Nevada Republican Party chooses to honor the caucus results — as McDonald indicated they would — the presidential primary results essentially would be disregarded.

The lawsuit, filed in May by Republican National Committeewoman Sigal Chattah, against Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, alleges the 2021 law mandating a presidential primary in Nevada violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, particularly protections guaranteeing freedom of association.

“Individuals are guaranteed the right to organize themselves into political parties,” the lawsuit states, “parties which are self-governed and not subject to state interference.”

Attorney General Aaron Ford’s office argued on behalf of Aguilar’s office last month that the Nevada Republican Party is not bound by the results of the presidential primary and that state law does not determine how any major party can dictate its primary elections. Aguilar’s office is required by state law to oversee the presidential primaries.

His office also argued that private ballots in a presidential primary provides voters with “more security and confidence,” and the process further encourages voter participation with early and day-of voting, along with absentee ballots. The caucus voting structure gives public disclosure to each party member’s vote, which can lead to intimidation and harassment, the office argued.

“A (presidential primary) election would also simplify the process,” Ford’s office contended on behalf of Aguilar. “Caucuses can be hard for voters to understand, especially for those with a language barrier, but an easier process would encourage voters to participate.”

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Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Stern on Twitter: @gabestern326.

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