On the night of April 14, Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske made a surprise announcement.
She said that her office had evidence that the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles had improperly allowed non-citizens to illegally register to vote, and that it had led to voter fraud during the 2016 election.
This came as a great surprise to many in the state, including Nevada DMV chief Terri Albertson, who said Cegavske’s office had signed off on their procedures, Clark County registrar of voters Joe Gloria, who oversees the electoral process for just over a million voters in Clark County, and Gov. Brian Sandoval, who stood with the state’s DMV in the days following the announcement.
“I wish I had something to tell you,” Gloria said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I’m in much the same boat as most other officials. We haven’t seen any information related to exactly what the secretary of state has discovered.”
And while some state Republicans took the opportunity as an a-ha moment, many of the state’s political observers were left scratching their heads.
“Were there two people who voted illegally?” said veteran Nevada political commentator Jon Ralston in an interview with KNPR. “Were there 200? Were there 2,000? We have no idea. Why [Cegavske] would do this under such a cloak of secrecy. Make an announcement like this but not say whether this was pervasive, whether it was just one or two people who slipped through – we don’t know.”
On Wednesday of last week — essentially an eternity after Cegavske’s initial announcement — proof was finally made available. It was confirmed that at least 3 non-citizens had voted in Nevada in 2016, while up to 21 had possibly voted.
A startling statistic at first glance, not so much at second.
To be sure, Nevada should ensure that its voting procedures are airtight. These votes were cast illegally, and if the DMV or Cegavske’s office can close the loopholes that allowed these people to vote — essentially the fact that the DMV doesn’t verify citizenship when it allows you to check a box to register when you get your driver’s license — they absolutely should.
However, three votes out of more than 1.1 million cast is as close to a non-problem as this problem could possibly be. Fears stoked by Republicans over illegal voting procedure are no more accurate now than they’ve ever been. Even so, the way Cegavske went about this whole thing — by providing the lure on a late Friday night, failing to inform anybody about it, and then revealing what is indeed a problem on the smallest possible scale — is disingenuous to the public she serves.
As we saw last year when FBI director James Comey released news of a renewed FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, public investigations have public consequences. Those in public service should not use their office in order to say “a-ha” or “I told you so.” The public deserves better.