On Tuesday, the Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit in Clark County, Nevada to obtain information about poll workers. The lawsuit claims that this information was wrongfully denied under the Public Records Act. Nevada law states that poll workers cannot be all of the same political party and the RNC argues that it has the right to inspect the “partisan breakdown and political affiliation” of the workers to ensure this provision was followed in the 2022 election. The suit claims that poll workers, like other government workers who are paid with public funds, are public-facing during the election process and that this information should be available for inspection.
In the lawsuit, Clark County, the election department, and Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria are named as defendants. The lawsuit includes emails from the Clark County District Attorney’s Office that stated the names of those who worked in primary and general elections this year would not be released due to election security. Clark County made a statement saying that they seek to protect the privacy of poll workers from “harassment, threats and other forms of intimidation.”
The RNC claims they had previously expressed to the county that they would not spotlight this information to the public and would keep it for the attorney’s eyes only. The lawsuit states:
Even though it had no obligation to do so, Petitioner offered to treat this information as “attorneys’ eyes only” to alleviate any privacy concerns that may legitimately exist.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant: we are suing Clark County to secure the election transparency that Nevadans deserve ahead of the midterms. (2/2)
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) September 20, 2022
In the RNC’s writ of mandamus petition, attorney Jordan T. Smith provides a counter-argument to a legal justification raised by the DA’s office during the time the records had been requested. In denying the request, the DA’s office cited a Nevada Supreme Court case dealing with the identities of police officers.
Although their names and badge numbers had been released, the Las Vegas Review-Journal sought to have their unit assignments released. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (Metro) argued that this could impact officers’ working undercover and jeopardize safety. A district court ruled for the unit information to be released so Metro appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, which noted that the officer’s names and badge numbers were already offered and remanded the case back down to the district court for consideration of the second prong of litmus test for privacy concerns. Ultimately, the unit assignments were not released.
If the government meets the burden by reasonably demonstrating the confidentiality concerns, the burden to prove otherwise is shifted to the other party. This was argued by the DA’s office in their denials of compliance with the RNC’s records request.
“… if the government establishes that the disclosure would intrude on a personal privacy interest, the burden shifts to the requesting party to show that disclosure is likely to advance a significant public interest.”
What is interesting about the DA’s arguments is that citing a concern is not the same as it being established in the courts, thus shifting the burden to the other party to overcome by significant public interest. The DA is unilaterally deciding via email how such a litmus test should be applied, and once they decided to exempt themselves, move to suggest the RNC needs to prove that following election laws serve the public interest. Really?
This author notes that citing a Supreme Court case that was not ultimately decided in that court, nor was intended to address the requested information such as names is a misleading tactic. Further, I don’t take the idea of “harassment” to have been Metro’s primary concern, but jeopardizing investigations. When an undercover officer becomes exposed, I don’t believe their concern is harassment per se, but much larger safety risks at the hands of criminal syndicates.
In the communications with the DA’s office, RNC’s counsel goes on to ask for a legal citation making these records confidential, as provided by state law:
“requires the County to provide “[a] citation to the specific statute or other legal authority that makes the public book or record, or a part thereof, confidential.”
No statutory citation has been provided to date.
On the issue of public interest on if our election laws are followed, you can count me in. As a resident of Clark County, I’m willing to bet that some of the poll and election department workers were not Nevada residents, nor Nevada voters. I think they are hiding more information than partisan affiliations; I know of Democrats who registered as Republicans in our closed primary just to better influence their general election opponents. Given that I suspect they imported workers from elsewhere, it’s hard to change their affiliation or provide it via voter rolls if they were never a resident to begin with.
So, what interests should prevail? The statutory requirements that election law is followed, and an inspection of that, or the imagination for harm by the government who implies, trust us, there is nothing to see here? I’m rooting for Ronna and the RNC on this one, along with the voters of Clark County who deserve transparency and fairness.