When children learn there are no consequences for breaking the rules, they learn to become rule breakers.
Like children, legislative candidates in Nevada have learned the same lesson.
Sure, they campaign as if representing the highest of ideals. And if asked, they’ll promise to solemnly swear to uphold Nevada laws. But some choose, right from the outset, to base their campaigns on fraud and deception. They illegally run for office in districts where they do not reside and intentionally misrepresent their residency status to the voting public.
The phenomenon first became visible during the 2012 election cycle, when a judge ruled that then-Assembly candidate Andrew Martin did not live in the district he was campaigning in. Martin had purchased a condo in District 9 — where he was campaigning — just prior to filing as a candidate. But surveillance footage taken months later revealed that he continued to reside in a District 2 home he had purchased in June 2007.
“Every night, you stayed at a place outside the district you’re running in,” Judge Rob Bare told Martin after reviewing over three hours of testimony. Martin was ruled ineligible to run in District 9 for failing to meet the residency requirement. According to Nevada law, “Each legislator must be elected from within the district wherein the Legislator resides by the registered voters residing in that district.”
Though Martin was declared ineligible, the ruling occurred one day prior to the general election. With no time for his name to be removed from the ballot, Martin, a Democrat, won handily in Democrat-leaning District 9.
Under the court’s ruling, lawmakers could have refused to seat Martin during the 2013 Legislative Session. The Assembly’s Democrat majority, however, chose to seat him. Because the Nevada constitution says “Each [legislative] House shall judge the qualifications, elections and returns of its own members,” the majority could ignore the unlawfulness of Martin’s election.
As a first-term assemblyman, Martin — a certified public accountant and certified fraud examiner — did champion some constructive legislation to strengthen auditing powers and internal controls within state agencies and was a vocal opponent of the flawed margin tax.
But the precedent he set in securing a public office for which he was ineligible has reverberated throughout Clark County. Today strong evidence suggests at least two more Democrats are running for Assembly seats in districts where they do not reside.
In District 34, Judge Nancy Allf declared candidate Meghan Smith ineligible to run due to failures to comply with residency requirements. Again, the judgment came too late to remove Smith’s name from the ballot, but Allf ordered that signs be placed at polling places to inform voters that Smith had been declared ineligible. Seeking to prevent the signs, Smith asked the Nevada Supreme Court to stay Allf’s ruling. The High Court, however, declined.
In District 10, Jake Holder declared he resided in an apartment that he’d moved into January 15 — just weeks before filing. However, the lease on the apartment unit is under someone else’s name, and the apartment manager has sworn an affidavit saying Holder is not a resident nor has ever been a resident of the apartment. Moreover, in September 2013, Holder made a Nevada Homestead Declaration on a property he still owns in District 41. And his driver’s license and vehicle are registered to yet another address outside of District 10.
Given Democrats’ registration advantage in both districts, either or both of these candidates could well outpoll their opponents. And Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick indicates that lawbreaking candidates could again be seated. “At this point,” she told reporters, “our No. 1 goal is to win the seat. Then the Legislature as a whole will look at all of the options.”
Current Secretary of State Ross Miller — legally responsible for overseeing election integrity — has not weighed in publicly. He is campaigning for Attorney General, the state’s top law-enforcement post.
After the Assembly decided to seat Martin in 2013, his election opponent, Kelly Hurst warned of the precedent lawmakers were setting. “If we really want people to live where they say they live,” Hurst said, “we need to make an example out of those caught cheating. All we’ve done is show that you don’t need to live in the district. If you belong to the right party, you will still be seated.”
Hurst’s warning now looks prescient.
What’s the point in having rules if they won’t be followed or enforced?
Geoffrey Lawrence is director of research at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a non-profit, free market think tank. For more, visit http://npri.org.