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September 30, 2014

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jon ralston:

A very, very special special election

It may not look quite like the space bar in “Star Wars” or, even freakier, a night at a party central committee meeting.

But considering how open Nevada’s first-ever House special election is supposed to be, Secretary of State Ross Miller’s inspired formulation of a “ballot royale” may not quite do it justice. Miller said when he set the rules Monday that calling it, as I have done, a “free-for-all” is demeaning to Nevada voters and the process.

Really? Regardless of whether Miller is right on the law (and many think he is) or the politics (as nearly everyone does), he has set up a “process” that is free (no filing fee) and for all — anyone, almost anyone, can run.

And it could provide a new definition of chaos: A process, sure to be challenged in court by someone, in which Sarah Palin has as much right to file as Jim Gibbons (you don’t have to live in a congressional district or a state to file for it), in which you can switch parties and file the same day, in which you can run as a member of the Green or Reform or Tequila Party or as an independent, in which anything can happen and surely will.

Folks, what is a reasonable over/under number to place on the candidate field, assuming this process is not overturned by Republicans hoping only to block Sharron Angle from being their nominee or to prevent a Democrat from taking a district never held by a Democrat in its 30 years of existence?

25? 50? 100?

Some of these will be able to make a case that a relatively small number of voters — just a few thousand — could win the race and that anyone with any kind of political base could be viable. That’s why so many folks, especially Republicans, are interested. And although the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee seems to have focused on Treasurer Kate Marshall, other Democrats will see this as a free shot at a congressional seat. Democrats do not have prohibitive disadvantage on the 2nd Congressional District — there are only 31,000 more Republicans out of 400,000 voters — and if there is just one Democratic contender (maybe even two?), this race could be even more historic.

Miller has taken heat on his decision from local and national Republicans, with the National Republican Congressional Committee providing some marvelous comic relief: “This blatantly partisan ruling from Harry Reid’s political machine is only the beginning of what will surely be a long and drawn out process.”

First, I assure you the person who most enjoyed reading that was ... Harry Reid. Never hurts to burnish the Meddler-in-Chief, Wizard of Searchlight credentials. He may even have sent the NRCC a thank-you card.

Second, please. The problem here for the GOP is it has no tenable political footing, the legal murkiness notwithstanding. Their argument is that a bunch of folks, many of them crazies and nincompoops, who serve on central committees are the best arbiters of who runs in a congressional primary? That’s a tougher sell than Sharron Angle in a regular race.

And that’s what this is all about: Sharron Angle controls the GOP. At least how it behaves. Again.

To be fair and free and for all, this does seem like a goofy way to run an election. Can it really be that the intent was to fill a vacancy by having a ballot royale where anyone could file without any requirements, totally unlike a regular election? On its face, that seems more democratic (yes, Democratic, too), but it seems as outlandish as allowing the central committees to choose ­— maybe more so.

There are cases, including some decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, that indicate you cannot prevent political parties from choosing their nominees. (Some are posted on my blog on the Sun’s site, along with some legal opinions.)

But the special House law, passed in 2003 in reaction to 9/11, also mandates there are no primaries, which is the usual way parties choose their nominees in congressional elections. Parties surely are free to choose their preferred candidates through the central committee process — the GOP has set a June 18 date — but that choice will get no preferential treatment on the ballot, no separation from the rest of hoi polloi.

My favorite scenario floating around: Democratic-controlled Legislature codifies the decision Miller made this week and sends bill to governor. Would Gov. Brian Sandoval veto a bill that says the people, not the parties, decide? That’s how it will be spun.

No matter what happens, legally or politically, it will be difficult to detract from the sheer spectacle of what’s to come. And the nation will be watching, too, looking for a 2012 bellwether.

I don’t think it could get more special.

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  1. If Jill Derby and Nancy Price withdraw in favor of Kate Marshall, and Sharron Angle stays in the race, this could be the most entertaining Democratic victory in Nevada history.