Las Vegas Sun

September 24, 2017

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How much did your vote cost? What it takes to be elected to City Council

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Mikayla Whitmore

Retired Air Force Col. Steve Seroka, left, and then-Las Vegas Councilman Bob Beers participate in a pre-debate coin-flip with host Joe Schoenmann outside the Nevada Public Radio offices on May 25, 2017. Seroka defeated Beers in the general election.

While voters and candidates have long lamented the high cost of campaigning at the state and federal levels, even running for a part-time local seat in the Las Vegas Valley is an expensive proposition.

In elections for City Council seats earlier this year, turnout was sparse, making the cost per vote more expensive.

Las Vegas Councilman Bob Beers, for example, spent $98.82 per vote in the primary election, according to a Las Vegas Sun analysis of campaign expenditures and vote tallies. He spent $60.18 per vote in the general election, but lost his seat to Steve Seroka, who spent $34.60 per vote in the primary and $46.51 for each of the nearly 4,000 votes he received.

A contentious redevelopment plan made the primary competitive for Beers, who won his seat in 2013 at a cost of $14.54 per vote. He was targeted because of his vote in favor of allowing a housing development to replace the closed Badlands golf course in Las Vegas — against the wishes of some nearby residents.

Real estate developer Christina Roush was the third-place finisher in the primary, spending $110.66 for each of her 1,592 supporters.

Looking back on how competitive the race was, Beers said the Badlands issue drove an extraordinary amount of spending.

“I received support from outside the Badlands arena that I likely would not have received as far as contributions in response to the threat that those people thought that issue presented,” Beers said. “So without those opponents I wouldn’t have raised nearly as much money or spent as much.”

Beers said the Ward 2 race was not really representative of campaign expenditures, with well-funded candidates and a surge of outside interests. He said he ran the race as he would any other, spending on street signs, direct mail consultants and polling.

Former state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore beat Kelli Ross for an open seat on the Las Vegas City Council, spending less per vote than Ross in the primary at $56.18 but almost twice as much as her opponent in the general at $64.89.

Ross’ husband, Steve, previously won that seat at a cost of $64.14 per vote in 2013, hitting a term limit to open up the spot for this year’s election.

“Open seats tend to be more expensive because there are typically multiple suitors,” UNLV political science professor David F. Damore said. “In this cycle we saw some incumbents got challenged, which is rare but certainly not unheard of.”

Municipal races, especially those with an incumbent running, can become “anointments,” where the establishment rallies behind a candidate early in the process, Damore said. Incumbents tend to lose over a scandal or a municipality’s bad economic performance, he said.

Henderson Councilman John Marz faced Carrie Cox in the general election, spending $20.38 per vote in the primary compared to Cox’s 87 cents per vote. Cox upped her spending to $2.93 for each of the 6,675 votes she received in the general, still paling in comparison to Marz’s expenditure of $41.27 for each ballot in his favor to retain his seat.

Marz had won that same seat in 2013 by spending $12.74 for each of the 8,450 votes he received in the primary.

The Las Vegas Sun calculated the cost of the effort to win each vote by dividing how much money each candidate spent leading up to the primary election by the number of votes each candidate received. The calculation was repeated for races that went to a general election.

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