A federal lawsuit challenging petitions to recall three Nevada state senators in districts with significant Hispanic and African-American populations alleges the effort is an unconstitutional attempt to replace the legislators with Republicans in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act.
The suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court also seeks to strike down Nevada's recall laws, which do not require any cause or justification for a recall as long as the petition has signatures from 25 percent of voters in the previous election.
Recall petitions were launched in August against Democratic Sens. Joyce Woodhouse of Henderson and Nicole Cannizzaro of Las Vegas, and Sen. Patricia Farley, a former Las Vegas Republican-turned-independent.
Two African-American and three Hispanic women who live in the districts are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The defendants are two election officials who would oversee any recalls — Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and Clark County Registrar of Voters Joseph Gloria.
Among other things, the lawsuit says the recall elections would violate the Voting Rights Act because an election do-over would disproportionately impact minorities with lower turn-out rates in recall elections.
No Nevada lawmaker has ever been successfully recalled from office, according to The Nevada Independent, which first reported the lawsuit.
The petition to recall Woodhouse says she has supported tax increases and other policies that will hurt Nevadans.
Neither Cegavske nor Gloria immediately responded Tuesday to requests for comment.
Gloria told the Las Vegas Review-Journal earlier that if all three recalls made it to special elections, it would cost taxpayers more than $150,000.
The plaintiffs — Nora Luna, Bilal Shabazz, Diane Crump-Richmond, Susan Florian and Demi Falcon — are represented by Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic Party attorney who once served as general counsel for Hillary Clinton, and Bradley Schrager, a former lawyer for the Nevada Democratic Party.
The suit said it appears the motivation for the recall effort is to change the balance of power in the Nevada Senate, currently comprised of 10 Democrats, nine Republicans and one independent.
They wrote in the court filings that all three senators won their seats in legitimate, democratic elections with no irregularities.
"As appears to be the case here, in Nevada, recalls can be employed as a political tactic to force a do-over election with a smaller electorate, composed of fewer racial minorities, for no reason other than dissatisfaction with the outcome of the prior election," the lawsuit states.
The signatures for the Woodhouse recall are due to the county registrar by Oct. 31, with signatures for the other two due in the second week of November.