Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Double-edged Sword? Underappreciated Jiu-jitsu? (Or Both?)

Early last month, we examined Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller's election reform bill. And we specifically looked deeper into the University of Minnesota's Doug Chapin's suggestion that Miller is engaging in some very clever "election geek jiu-jitsu" by cloaking his plan to modernize Nevada's election system in the cover of "addressing voter ID concerns".

Yesterday, we saw this dynamic in play in Reno when Miller pitched his bill to the Reno Republican Men's Club. Interestingly enough, the crowd there seemed to be digging it. But of course, there's a catch.

The group proved responsive to Miller’s proposal, with Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick telling the crowd at the Atlantis resort that “it’s about time Nevada gets a voter ID law.”

Gammick was cheered by members of Reno’s Republican Men’s Club after his comment.

Yet, the scene suggested it may be more difficult for Miller, a Democrat, to get his own party’s support. [...]

Miller also told the crowd that Democratic opposition to his bill is founded on “misinformation.”

“There are member of the Democratic party who are conditioned to think that it (voter ID system) means that there is an effort to suppress the vote or that this will result in individuals being disenfranchised.”

This has been Miller's problem all along. Early reports of Miller's bill sounded so good to conservatives wanting to hear "voter ID" that it scared the living daylights out of progressives hearing "voter suppression".

Yesterday, Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey (R-Reno) reiterated his support for the bill... But did so in a way that can hurt Miller politically. He again tried to tie this to proposed legislation to allow for some sort of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, probably in hopes of sparking more anger on matters of immigration. And like the other Reno Republican men mentioned above, Hickey couched his support in terms of implementing "voter ID". So while Hickey's endorsement of Miller's bill may help boost Republican support for the bill, it also looks like Hickey is going out of his way to "help" Miller bleed Democratic support for election reform.

And there may be yet another dynamic at play here, one that I wasn't completely considering until I read between the lines here.

It could cost Nevada up to $10 million to implement the system. [Senate Majority Leader Mo] Denis [D-North Las Vegas] contents that would be a waste of tax money when there is no evidence that Nevada’s current system is prone to voter fraud.

“Part of this is on voter fraud, supposedly trying to fix the problem,” Denis said. “But we don’t really have any documented evidence that there is a problem. So when it comes to funding an issue, when we also have education and economic issues…that is not going to be a priority for us.”

Are at least some Republicans also chomping at the bit to pass Ross Miller's election reform bill in hopes of offsetting the costs of implementation with budget cuts elsewhere? May this be the true reason why Mo Denis and Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-North Las Vegas) are just hoping to quietly kill this bill in committee? Would they rather deny Republicans even the slightest chance of (mis)using this as "leverage" to extract budget cuts and/or another conservative policy priority?

Already, it looks like there are some high-stakes political games happening behind the scene in Carson City while Ross Miller tries to gin up bipartisan support for his bill. At the same time, Ross Miller is trying hard to score an important policy win on election reform that may lead to dramatic results if passed and properly implemented. Perhaps Miller is also looking to score a key political win before officially announcing his poorly kept secret of a 2014 Attorney General campaign.

So there are already many intriguing layers to this fight for election reform in the 77th session of the Nevada Legislature. It just remains to be seen if this bill falls prey to #NVLeg power plays and "leverage" grabs... Or if Ross Miller can yet find a way to thread the needle and outfox all the "leaders" in Carson City.

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