Nevada’s top elections official says her office has found evidence of voting by non-citizens in last fall’s election—a claim that could impact an ongoing battle over voter registration there.
“Based on new information we have recently uncovered, we have initiated an investigation into illegal votes cast in the last general election,” Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske told The Las Vegas Review-Journal Friday evening.
Cegavske, a Republican, first revealed the probe in a letter sent Friday to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. In it, she accused the DMV of offering voter registration materials to people the DMV knew to be non-citizens because they had used a Green Card as ID, and she directed the agency to stop doing so. But Cegavske stopped short of saying that the non-citizens who her office found had voted had registered thru the DMV — though she appeared to deliberately conflate the two issues.
“Please take appropriate action corrective action, as we have reason to believe that non-citizens have unlawfully registered to vote in Nevada as a direct result of DMV’s practices,” Cegavske wrote. “Moreover, we have now confirmed that some non-citizens illegally cast votes in the 2016 general election.”
Asked by The Daily Democracy whether the state had evidence that the non-citizen voters had registered through the DMV, a spokesman for Cegavske didn’t immediately respond. Cegavske’s office has declined to offer additional details about what they’ve found.
Indeed, Cegavske’s case against the DMV appears weak. As DMV director Terri Albertson noted in a response to Cegavske sent Saturday, federal voting law requires the DMV to transmit all completed registration forms to elections officials, whose job it is to determine whether the applicant is eligible to vote. That’s in order to ensure voters aren’t wrongly disenfranchised. Albertson added that her agency marks any voter registration application that might need further review, and that the secretary of state’s office approved this process.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, too, said Monday he doesn’t know anything about Cegavske’s claims of non-citizen voting but that he believes the DMV is following the correct procedure.
In other words, whatever evidence of non-citizen voting Cegavske has found, there’s no evidence that the DMV played a role in it. And the agency appears to have followed the letter and spirit of the law. It’s perhaps worth noting, too, that her office went to the Review-Journal, a paper owned by GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, to publicize its claims.
Why would Cegavske needlessly drag the DMV into the issue, then? Perhaps because a major fight is brewing in the Silver State over voter registration policy, and specifically the role of the DMV in it.
Last month, Sandoval, a Republican, vetoed a bill that would have made Nevada the seventh state to adopt automatic voter registration (AVR), in which any eligible voter who comes into contact with the DMV is automatically registered to vote unless they choose to opt out. Among the reasons Sandoval offered for his veto was that it could lead to ineligible voters being registered—though in states that have adopted AVR, the procedures for flagging ineligible voters appear to have worked fine.
But because the AVR bill emerged as a citizen initiative, it will now go on the 2018 ballot. That means stoking fear over illegal voting, and especially over the DMV’s role in the process, could discourage voters from approving AVR.
Cegavske took no public position on the AVR bill, and she hasn’t joined some other Republicans in making claims about widespread voter fraud. Last month, her office announced an agreement with voting rights groups to streamline voter registration opportunities at the DMV, in order to comply with federal voting law.
But her opposition to another key way of making voting easier, same-da voter registration, as well as her support for voter ID laws, were key planks of her 2014 campaign for secretary of state. Cegavske backed a voter ID bill introduced in 2015, which ultimately failed to pass.
Several other proposals to expand access to voter registration, offered by Democratic lawmakers, also are currently before the legislature.
There’s an even larger context to the controversy, too. In recent years, a surge of Hispanic voters has boosted Democrats in Nevada, which leaned Republican until relatively recently. Last fall, Hillary Clinton won the state, and Democrat Catherine Cortes-Masto was elected to the Senate.
The early voting period, which had a particularly high Hispanic turnout, saw complaints from some Republicans that a polling site in a Hispanic neighborhood in Las Vegas was improperly kept open late “so a certain group could vote,” as state GOP chair Michael McDonald put it. In fact, the voters were in line by the official closing time, meaning they were correctly allowed to vote.
Late Update, 5:03pm: Though Cegavske’s office didn’t respond to our request for comment, a member of her public relations team did click on the link for this story in The Daily Democracy newsletter sent Tuesday, according to the newsletter’s records.