Thursday, March 9, 2017 | 2 a.m.
On Feb. 7, Nevada state Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, introduced Senate Bill 103. If passed, Nevada would be the first state to go through the legislature, rather than a citizen initiative, to adopt a voting method that recognizes changing voter attitudes and registration trends, not only in the state but across the nation.
Currently, more than 27 percent of active registered voters in Nevada are not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties. About 21 percent are registered as nonpartisan. These numbers are 10 percent higher among those 18 to 34 years of age. Every month, these percentages increase as the voter share held by the two major political parties declines. This trend is seen across all demographics; state-wide, Clark and Washoe counties, the rural counties, among 18- to 34-year-olds, and those over the age of 55. It is visible in all 42 state assembly districts, 21 state senate districts and four congressional districts. Unless something changes, fewer voters will be making the choice for all Nevada residents.
SB 103 provides the path to avoid that scenario. By implementing a process that upholds a political party’s right of association (see U.S. Supreme Court decision in Jones v. California and Washington Grange v. Washington), yet is more inclusive, Nevada will take a major step toward less negative campaigning and more collaborative governing.
Under SB 103, state and federal elections (excluding presidential elections) will be conducted using the same process currently used for nonpartisan elected offices such as city council and judges. All candidates, regardless of party, will be listed on the primary election ballot and all voters, regardless of party registration, will be allowed to vote. The two candidates with the highest vote total, regardless of party, will advance to the general election. Since voters are determining the two most popular candidates out of all candidates on the ballot, they are not selecting a party’s nominee. There is nothing preventing a political party from exercising its right of association prior to the primary election.
This type of election process is not new to Nevada. This is how elections were conducted prior to 1918.
In April 2016, state Sen. Patricia Farley said, “If I’m a registered independent and I like a Republican, I shouldn’t have to change my party affiliation.” And in its endorsement of SB 103, the Nevada League of Women Voters wrote, “Through the legislative process we hope legislators and the public examine SB 103 and consider its ability to increase voter participation and improve overall election outcomes.”
Having elections in which the voices of all voters are heard is crucial. Because of the frustration caused by the hyperpartisan political environment, an increasing number of Nevadans are voluntarily removing themselves from the process. Pew Research has called it “tribal,” and the Harvard Business School has called it the biggest obstacle to this nation’s economic competitiveness and progress. Contact your state legislators and tell them you want SB 103 enacted. More information can be found at nevadaelectionreform.blogspot.com.
Doug Goodman is the author of the Nevada Election Modernization and Reform Act.