Response: Federal Judge Rules for Deadline Extension

On May 29, 2020, Federal District Court Miranda Du responded to Fair Maps Nevada’s request to extend the deadline for submitting ballot petition signatures and to gather signatures electronically to protect the public’s health. (The judge’s order is attached at the end of this post)

Judge Du found that we are entitled to up to six weeks extra time, which matches the amount of time we lost due to the Governor’s COVID-19 Stay at Home Order. She did not, however, rule that we can use electronic signature gathering to protect Nevadans from COVID-19 infection.

Judge Du ruled that she does not have the power to require the Secretary of State’s Office to work with us to create a system for gathering signatures electronically because we are close to the November election and because it would be difficult to find an electronic signature gathering program that would prevent fraud.

We find this reasoning puzzling considering the courts are now meeting virtually and using electronic signatures for most transactions, which means our court system recognizes electronic signatures as reliable and secure. And the Secretary of State’s office just announced it purchased an electronic signature program to allow voters who forget to sign their mail-in ballot’s return envelope to sign electronically.

We had planned to ask the Secretary of State’s office to allow us to use the online voter registration system to gather signatures, which Nevadans have used for many years to register to vote. This program allows eligible voters to affix their signatures on record with the DMV to voter registration forms. It is a proven and secure system and much more reliable than randomly asking people outside of a grocery store to sign a paper ballot petition.

Judge Du ruled that we must use the in-person, face to face signature gathering process as it exists in Nevada Revised Statutes to qualify our ballot petition. She does note that Governor Sisolak may set aside statute through his emergency powers in NRS Chapter 411, but apart from an order from the Governor to allow us to gather signature safely and securely electronically, we will need to employ a traditional strategy for gathering signatures.

This strategy will include hiring petition circulators to go door-to-door asking voters to sign our petition and hosting large events in each petition district to answer questions from voters and to request signatures. We regret that under these circumstances many voters will be unable to sign our petition out of fear of being infected by COVID-19.  These high-risk groups include people of color, the elderly, individuals with chronic diseases, voters who are immunocompromised, many voters with disabilities, and the family members of these high risk groups who are trying their best to keep their loved ones safe and healthy.

We will post more information on our next steps soon, which will include opportunities to help us gather signature in the traditional face-to-face method and possibly a petition to sign to ask the Governor to allow us to gather signatures electronically. The Governor truly cares about the health of Nevadans, so we cannot think of a reason that would cause him to reject our request.

Here is what the judge noted in our case:

Here is the Judge’s full order:

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