Nevada's new elections deputy says his goal is to anticipate problems, rather than react to them after the fact.
But Ellick Hsu says he has no illusions that will keep the Secretary of State's office completely out of court.
"Things have truly changed in the last three election cycles," he said.
He cited the numerous lawsuits filed last election over initiative petitions seeking to impose tough rules on any proposed tax increases and lawsuits over access to public buildings during petition drives and challenges to candidates.
Hsu, 32, was a corporate and real estate lawyer at Lionel, Sawyer and Collins, the state's largest private law firm.
He said he took the job earlier this year because he wanted a change, and "this is something I was interested in." But he said the skills and approach that served him there are proving ideal for handling election issues.
"Transactional lawyers focus on potential issues," he said. "My approach is to try to fix it on the front end.
"We're trying to anticipate problems, see what the interests are ahead of time, and provide guidance on the front end, instead of fighting it out on the back end."
That process is complicated by Nevada's hodgepodge of badly organized election statutes with occasional containing rules, developed over the past century
"It's uncertainty that makes election law so hard to manage," he said. "I thought the IRS Code was hard."
In addition, the elections division is facing major federal mandates under the Help America Vote Act - including creation of a statewide voter registration system by Jan. 1.
With increasing numbers of federal mandates, Hsu said power over elections is becoming more and more centralized. County clerks are no longer the final word on how elections are conducted. And, he said, the federal government has put more of the responsibility on the states.
"There's a transition that needs to take place, with the state having a more central role than before," he said.
Which means working a lot more closely with those clerks to ensure everything works. That was evident last year as the state and clerks worked to move all Nevada counties to electronic voting machines, as mandated by Secretary of State Dean Heller.
This election cycle, Hsu and the clerks must implement laws that moved the primary election date back from September into August, which shifts several other deadlines. Lawmakers also required the division to put detailed election results on the Web for the public to search.
"We have a lot of work to do," he said.
On top of that, the battles over last election's initiatives still aren't all resolved.
"We're still dealing with one of the most contentious, litigated elections ever."
He said he expects more litigation over the petitions seeking a place on the ballot this election cycle. There are already a dozen of them circulating or already qualified for the ballot.
Hsu is originally from Southern California. He started as a pre-medicine major studying neuroscience and worked at a University of California, San Diego in a gene therapy lab. He didn't enjoy it so, when a professor suggested he consider law, he found something he liked much better.
Despite his interest in the election process, he describes himself as non-political.
"I grew up pretty blue collar. I was taught to want to do the right thing and be fair to everybody," he said.
"I don't have any baggage to carry."
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.