Judge declines to reopen voter registration

LAS VEGAS - A state judge refused Friday to reopen registration for Clark County residents whose voter applications might have been destroyed by a Republican-funded group.

Clark County District Court Judge Valerie Adair said she was presented with evidence of just two voters who might have been disenfranchised by having their registration forms ripped up, and said that did not justify reopening the registration process.

"While this court believes that each individual's vote is important and must be protected ... the court finds the requested relief is not warranted," she said.

Nevada Democratic Party spokesman Jon Summers said the party was considering its options on the lawsuit it originally filed Wednesday seeking to extend the registration deadline. Registration for the general election closed Tuesday.

The judge had said she was concerned about opening "floodgates" to manipulation of the voter rolls on the eve of early voting for the Nov. 2 election. The state allows voters to cast early ballots for 14 days beginning Saturday.

Lawyers for the state Democratic party and county had said they thought the number of voters affected might be in the dozens.

The judge said any voter who thinks they were wrongly denied the opportunity to vote can file a lawsuit. She noted that registration forms also contain a disclaimer advising registrants to submit their completed applications in person or by mail, or run the risk of not being registered if another person doesn't turn in the form properly.

County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax said he was pleased with the quick decision so his department can focus on early voting, mail-in ballots and the Nov. 2 election. Some 58,000 requests for mail ballots are expected, officials have said.

The Democratic party's lawsuit accused Voters Outreach of America, a private canvassing company hired by the Republican National Committee, of destroying Democratic registration forms collected in the Las Vegas and Reno areas.

Nevada state law requires anyone registering voters to accept and submit forms regardless of a voter's party affiliation.

The lawsuit, alleging voter intimidation and fraud, sought to reopen registration in Clark County, where nearly 700,000 of the record 1.1 million registered voters have signed up to vote.

The case is based on an affidavit by former Voters Outreach employee Eric Russell, 26, of Las Vegas. He said he was disappointed by Adair's ruling, and denied raising the issue in retaliation for being fired by the canvassing firm last month.

Russell's affidavit said he was instructed to register only Republicans, and that he saw a supervisor tear up completed registration forms from Democrats.

Officials at the Nevada secretary of state's office, the state attorney general's office and the FBI said they were looking into whether state or federal laws were broken.

Russell's girlfriend and ex-Voters Outreach employee Ashlee Tims, 19, of Las Vegas said she also heard a supervisor order Democratic registration forms to be discarded. Tims said she also was fired.

Nathan Sproul, a former head of the Republican Party in Arizona who subcontracted with the Republican National Committee to register GOP voters with Voters Outreach of America, has denied the allegations. Sproul of Chandler, Ariz., characterized Russell as a disgruntled ex-employee.

Nevada Republican party officials on Friday called Democratic accusations of deliberate voter registration fraud "baseless," and said they also found voter registration forms submitted to the county registrar by groups affiliated with the Democratic party for addresses that don't exist.

"This is nothing more than a thinly veiled politically motivated effort to draw media attention away from the real issues just days prior to early voting," said Brian Scroggins, chairman of the Clark County Republican Party.

Lomax called the false address problem common among forms submitted by canvassers paid to sign up voters.

GOP officials conceded they had no direct evidence of Democratic party involvement.

The registration allegations highlight Nevada's position as a battleground in the presidential election. The state has 429,327 registered Republicans, 427,217 Democrats and five electoral votes.

The latest polls show President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry separated by just a few percentage points. Bush narrowly carried the state in 2000.


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