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August 2, 2014

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A revised election reform plan could increase tepid voter turnout

Voter turnout in this year’s primary election, with luck, may break 10 percent, partly due to lack of voter interest. A proposal I have been working on since September could make such low turnout a thing of the past.

The Nevada Election Modernization and Reform Act is not complicated. The current system has limited primaries based on party affiliation. Under this proposal, the primary would list all candidates for each office on the ballot, and all voters, regardless of how they’re registered, would get to vote in each race.

This makes sense because our tax dollars, not the political parties, pay the nearly $4 million it costs for each primary.

Studies show that open blanket primaries draw candidates closer to the median voter. Having more ideas and solutions debated early in the election cycle benefits all candidates regardless of party and the electorate.

Under my proposal, the top three finishers would advance to the general election unless one of the candidates gets 50 percent of the vote plus one, in which case the candidate would win. If three or fewer candidates run, all would move to the general election, reducing campaign costs.

The general election would be conducted using “ranked-choice” voting, also known as “instant-runoff” voting. This process is used in several cities with overwhelming voter acceptance.

It allows voters to rank the three candidates, so if no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, second-choice votes are added in for the top two finishers and a winner is named. By doing so, it guarantees that the winner receives a true majority, at least 50 percent plus one vote.

Elected officials like to say they were elected with a mandate simply because they won. Many times though, victory was only on a plurality of votes. Under this proposed system, the result is a true majority, and a claim of a mandate would be justified.

There is a benefit to voters as well. Many times a voter will face an internal conflict: vote for the preferred candidate or succumb to “I don’t want to waste my vote” syndrome. This conflict is resolved by the use of a second-choice vote.

Every vote matters and under this system voters who believe their vote has no impact could return to the polls. Because candidates are drawn closer to the median voter, political parties could also regain some of the membership they have lost and continue to lose.

I have had dozens of meetings with state lawmakers, caucus leaders and elections officials as well civil liberty, voting rights and business groups to discuss the proposal. With minor exception my proposal has been well received. Most people found it worthy of discussion, and some expressed real interest.

If introduced and passed by the 2015 Legislature and signed by the governor, Nevada would have the most inclusive voting system in the nation.

And having the most inclusive voting system in the nation could make a difference to companies looking to bring jobs to Nevada.

Doug Goodman lives in Sparks and is the originator of the Nevada Election Modernization and Reform Act. He can be reached via [email protected] or through www.nevadaelectionreform.blogspot.com. A version of this piece first appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

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