Election office uses Publican Party tactic



Washoe County Democratic officials are considering seeking legislation to deal with the county voter registrar’s office using Republican language on official election materials.

Republicans like to use the term “Democrat” as an adjective instead of a noun, as in “Democrat Party” or “Democrat Convention” because it grates on the ear and because they claim the party is not democratic. Republican pollster Frank Luntz, a leading party strategist who specializes in manipulation of language, has urged GOP candidates like Newt Gingrich to use “Democrat Party” in their speeches.

As a result, the term has been defined as an epithet or denigrating use in reference sources like Garner's Modern American Usage. Some Republican leaders such as Jack Kemp have criticized the tactic as juvenile or loutish.

It's unusual, however, for this kind of political language to make its way into official materials, as with “Democrat ballot.” This year's Washoe County primary election ballot, in effect, listed a non-existent political party. “Democrat” appeared on both ballots and sample ballots. At the top of the viewscreen when Democrats voted this month it read, “OFFICIAL DEMOCRAT PRIMARY ELECTION BALLOT.”

There is no Democrat Party in the state. The party is incorporated with the Nevada Secretary of State's office as “Democratic Party of Nevada.”

Washoe County Democratic chair Janice Flanagan said she is prepared to seek legislation to correct political use of election language “because it's being used as a slur and if we don't stop it now it'll never stop. It'll be considered accepted usage.”

It's uncertain when the practice began, but the RN&R inspected Washoe sample ballots for 1980, 1986 and 1988 issued by registrar Dianne Cornwall. All used the term “Democratic.” When the incorrect usage was brought to the attention of registrar Dan Burk in 2008, he said it would not happen again, but it did (“Limbaugh's dream ballot,” RN&R, June 3, 2010). One Nevada blogger, ZekeSaysSo, posted an August 2008 message about Burk that read in part, “Is he or isn't he? … A Republican.”

One legislative option is to mandate that political party officials inspect and sign off on the form of their party's representations on the ballot. Or election officials could be required to use the legal names of parties.

A month before the primary, the RN&R asked Washoe County Voter Registrar Luanne Cutler whether the term “Democrat” would appear anywhere on primary election materials. After looking them over, she said no. Whether that was an oversight is unknown, but the registrar office's website contains this language: “In Nevada, only the Democrat Party and Republican Party are [legally] designated as MAJOR Political Parties.” This week she said she would be happy to cooperate with the party to get rid of those misbegotten adjectives. “We want to use what is correct and will do whatever needs to be done.”

Last month in Oregon, Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall, who had previously been accused of favoritism toward tea partiers, got in trouble again for labeling an official ballot as a “Democrat” ballot.

According to Richard Nixon biographer Earl Mazo, there is no adjectival form for democrat: “The Greek adjective is demokratikos, which becomes in English ‘democratic.' There is no Greek source for the adjective ‘democrat'.”