One View: Nevada on verge of major election reform - Open Primaries
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Posted by Jesse Shayne on December 15, 2016 at 3:48 PM

One View: Nevada on verge of major election reform

This article was written by Doug Goodman for the Reno Gazette-Journal

As of the end of November 2016, more than one-quarter (27 percent) of active registered voters in Nevada are not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican Party. Almost 21 percent are registered as Non-Partisan. For younger voters, those between the ages of 18 and 34, the numbers are 10 percent higher. Every month, with very minor exception, both major political parties lose voter share while voter share of nonpartisan and the minor parties increases. This trend is consistent across all demographics: state-wide, Clark County, Washoe County, the rural counties, among those between the ages of 18 and 34 and those 55 years of age and older. In 13 of the 21 state senate districts (62 percent) and in 29 of the 42 state assembly districts (69 percent) the number of voters not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican Party either exceeds or is within five percent of the number registered to one of the major parties.

These figures and the continuing trend of voters leaving the major political parties are the result of what Pew Research and other studies show as the most divisive issue in our country, the hyper-partisanship that currently engulfs our political system. In September of this year, Harvard Business School identified our broken political system as the major obstacle to this nation’s economic competitiveness and progress.

The 2017 session of the Nevada legislature is poised to address this issue. On Nov. 28, 2016, Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, filed a bill draft request (BDR) that will make a major change to the way Nevadans vote. This change has been shown to reduce the negativity of campaigns and help return a level of collaboration and mutual problem-solving to the legislative process. It addresses the reality that an increasing number of voters are frustrated with the new political norms and want their elected representatives at all levels of government to work together to address the many issues facing our nation, our state, our counties and our cities.

Under the proposed change, Nevada would no longer use closed primary elections but rather implement a top-two open nonpartisan primary system (“top-two”). It is imperative to note top-two has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Jones v. Californiaas not infringing on a political party’s right of association. Nonparty members are not selecting a party’s nominee.

A top-two primary allows all voters to participate in selecting the two candidates who will advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. There is only one ballot listing the names of all candidates. While a rarity, it is possible two Democratic or two Republican candidates will advance. Independent and minor party candidates compete in the primary rather than the general election with a chance to advance. By having to appeal to a wider range of voters, campaigns focus on a broader range of views on any given issue. Once elected, officials tend to collaborate more frequently as their re-election chances no longer hinge on a small ideologically pure base.

During the 2015 Nevada legislative session, a slightly different bill (SB 499) was given a hearing but failed to advance in its original form. This proposal by Sen. Settelmeyer is a significant improvement and deserves support.

Doug Goodman lives in Sparks and is the originator of the Nevada Election Modernization and Reform Act


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