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In Nevada, a bipartisan push behind new law to protect election workers

The law didn’t protect election workers in the Silver State, until Republicans and Democrats worked together to change it.

A man in a blue suit and tie stands next to another man in a beige jacket and tie who is behind a podium. 
Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, left, and Gov. Joe Lombardo at the ceremonial signing of legislation to protect election workers on May 31 in Carson City, Nevada.  (Courtesy of the Nevada Secretary of State’s office)

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It’s not often that I get to bring you good news in this newsletter. But today is that day! This week, Nevada’s Republican governor signed a law passed with bipartisan support that will make it a felony to harass, threaten, or intimidate election workers. Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar spoke with Votebeat about it this week, and says he hopes it can serve as a model for national legislation.

“Our democracy is dependent on elections and our elections depend on people,” said Aguilar, a Democrat who made election worker safety a key part of his campaign.

It comes after one particularly flaring instance of harassment and intimidation in the state was disposed of in, well, a way not particularly satisfying for those affected: Last month a Las Vegas jury found a man not guilty who had been  charged with four counts of making threatening phone calls.

The man in question allegedly told an election worker, “I hope you all go to jail for treason. I hope your children get molested. You are all going to (expletive) die.”

Horrifying, yes, but not a specific enough threat for the jury to convict the caller of a crime  under the previous  law.

Aguilar said it was difficult to watch the people who’d already been traumatized by the harassment have to relive it during the trial, only for the caller to be found not guilty. The trauma especially resonated with his team, he said, because his office has hired many local election workers who were subjected to such treatment. Now, those officials find the relative anonymity of a state government job safer.

“It was a blow to them,” he said. “It was not a good day in the secretary of state’s office.”

He hopes the new law will make at least those kinds of bad days go away. Among other changes, the law:

  • Makes it a defined crime to harass or intimidate an election worker with the intent of interfering with an election or retaliating against them for their work carrying out elections;
  • Offers election workers protection from having personal details released online;
  • Clarifies that harassment of these individuals can and does happen outside of polling locations;
  • Offers more protections for election workers while on the job.

It’s among the more specific pieces of legislation aimed at protecting election workers I have seen so far, and it was a bipartisan process. Aguilar attributed that to early conversations with Republicans and law enforcement officers, who helped with the wording of the bill. Nevada’s governor, Joe Lombardo, is a Republican and the former sheriff of Clark County.

“He understands what it means to have the law on your side,” said Aguilar, who noted that without a clear law banning specific actions, there is little law enforcement can do to help people who are being threatened or harassed. “Unless it’s very clear, it’s hard for law enforcement to take a stand — they know it’s not right, but right now they are stuck.”

He says that other secretaries of state and elected officials who are eager to pass similar legislation should encourage those who have been harassed and threatened to tell their stories. The clerks of Nevada’s 17 counties were included in all conversations, and most were present for the signing of the bill last week. One clerk drove seven hours with her husband from Lincoln County.

“We’re here because we let them tell their stories,” he said.

Back Then

Like many other Western states, Nevada was ahead of its time on women’s suffrage. The state granted women the right to vote in 1914 after a referendum, with 10,936 votes in favor to 7,257 against. At the time, this was the largest proportion of votes to give  women the right to vote. Several fascinating female activists helped make this happen, including one with a very cool name and a very cool story: Laura de Force Gordon. Born in Pennsylvania in 1838, she later moved to California. She was the first woman to run a newspaper in the country —  the Stockton Daily Leader — and the second woman admitted to practice law in the state of California. She pushed for women’s suffrage in Nevada in the late 1860s and throughout the 1870s. One newspaper there described testimony she gave before the state legislature as “like a stream of liquid fire.”

New From Votebeat

From Votebeat Arizona: After botching election results, Arizona county wants to try hand-counting ballots

From Votebeat Arizona: Arizona isn’t banning machines to count ballots. Why a top senator’s declaration means nothing. 

From Votebeat Michigan: Bill in Michigan House would let 16-year-olds kick-start their voter registration early

From Votebeat Pennsylvania: 18 Pa. candidates who spread election misinformation are poised to oversee local voting in 2024

From Votebeat Texas: New Texas law gives secretary of state the power to intervene in Harris County elections. 

From Votebeat Texas: Illegal voting set to become a felony again in Texas, but only if unlawful intent can be proved

From Votebeat Texas: Texas Legislature averts $100 million consequences of law requiring nonexistent election technology

From Votebeat Texas: Texas set to withdraw from ERIC after final legislative approval

From Votebeat Texas: Texas Republicans approve bill forcing Harris County to eliminate election chief

In Other Voting News

  • Former Cochise County Elections Director Lisa Marra will receive $130,000 from the Arizona’s county’s insurance in response to her claims of a toxic work environment after two county supervisors pressured her to conduct an illegal hand count of ballots from the 2022 election, even briefly suing her personally, the Herald Review reported. Marra now works for the secretary of state’s office. 
  • A federal grand jury indicted a failed GOP political candidate in New Mexico on charges of election interference after a series of drive-by shootings targeting local Democratic officials, WGAU Radio reported
  • The special counsel investigating former President Donald Trump’s actions related to the 2020 presidential election results is asking witnesses about the firing of Christopher Krebs, the federal cybersecurity official who had declared the election secure even as Trump and his allies questioned the results, the New York Times reported
  • California state officials are finalizing regulations to govern hand-counting after Shasta County earlier this year voted to hand-count ballots in future elections, Jefferson Public Radio reported. Hand counting will require roughly 1,300 workers, Shasta County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen estimates.
  • Failed GOP Arizona Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem and his lawyer must pay more than $48,000 for bringing a groundless legal challenge to the 2022 election results, a Maricopa County judge ruled. A different Maricopa County judge declined to sanction former GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake over her election lawsuit, the Arizona Republic reported.

Jessica Huseman is Votebeat’s editorial director and is based in Dallas. Contact Jessica at jhuseman@votebeat.org.

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