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Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller announced Monday that the impending special election in the state’s 2nd district will be open to any and all qualified candidates, but the final decision is expected to come in the courts.
“We have never had a special election for a U.S. House vacancy,” Miller said. “We have been thoroughly researching the issue for some time. It is my belief that the law is very clear.”
Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) said last week that he will appoint Rep. Dean Heller (R) to serve the remainder of the term of Sen. John Ensign (R), who will resign his seat Tuesday. Sandoval set the special election for Sept. 13.
The appointment set off a scurry, as it became clear that the 2003 law passed in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks could have different interpretations. Instead of setting a clear path for special House elections, the two parties had two divergent readings of the law.
In a GOP-leaning district with several Republicans expected to run, Miller’s interpretation could hurt the party’s chances at holding the seat. With a split vote among Republicans, the possibility for a Democrat to win a plurality of the votes would increase.
The GOP state party’s attorney, David O’Mara, argued recently that the law clearly gives the right of nominating candidates to the state parties’ central committees. In the aftermath of Miller’s decision, Nevada GOP Executive Director Cory Adair said the party has not ruled out suing for an injunction.
“The Nevada Republican Party will consider all options to protect the election process for the benefit of the citizens living in Congressional District 2,” Adair said in a statement. “This may include the initiation of litigation.”
Speaking at a press conference, Miller said he was comfortable with the decision and had no doubt it was consistent with the intent of the law, though he conceded that it would likely become a decision for the courts. He also said the special election will cost $1.3 million.
“Had the legislature intended for the central committees to appoint, they could have simply said that,” Miller said. “They did not do so.”