Las Vegas Sun

January 22, 2019

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Sun editorial:

Proposal to consolidate elections is a winner

Image

Leila Navidi

Indalecio Hernandez, left, gets some help from Margarita Recendiz during municipal election voting at John Fremont Middle School on St. Louis Avenue in Las Vegas Tuesday, April 5, 2011.

The 2017 municipal elections in Southern Nevada drew turnout that could only be described as pathetic. You could have put everyone who voted for positions in the cities of Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas in Sam Boyd Stadium, and about a quarter of the seats would have been empty.

So here’s to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office for drafting a bill that would force cities to hold their elections in even-numbered years, at the same time as general elections and midterms.

It’s a move that is long, long overdue.

Turnout for municipal elections was lousy well before 2017, and with little wonder. Voters often say they need a break from politics after the endless campaigning that happens during even-year elections, and people are simply less passionate about municipal elections than those at other levels. That’s maddening, because decisions at the local level can be very important, but there’s no getting around it.

Beyond that, municipal elections often don’t feature at-large races, so relatively few voters are involved.

So the upshot is that cities are spending money for elections that bring a trickle of ballots, and races are being decided by tiny slivers of the electorate. In 2017, for example, just 7,644 of the 63,024 registered voters in the Las Vegas City Council Ward 6 race bothered to vote. So just 12.1 percent of the voters determined the outcome.

It’s not as if the 2017 elections were a dud in terms of candidates and issues, either. There were competitive races between qualified candidates.

So the consistently low turnout isn’t good, either for efficient use of tax dollars or for democratic participation.

The Legislature should make short work of passing the measure when it convenes in January.

To its credit, Clark County has taken a number of steps to make voting easier and more convenient, such as replacing precincts with voting centers where eligible voters from anywhere in the valley can cast their ballots.

Rolling the elections into one would make it even easier. While voting for national and state positions, voters could also decide elections for city posts.

Not everyone will like the idea.

The arguments against consolidating elections include that candidates at the low end of the ballot will have a hard time getting their messages heard amid the barrage of advertising coming candidates for Congress, governor and so on. Having everyone on the same ballot, opponents say, will create a fundraising arms race for low-ballot elections.

Unfortunately, there’s some truth to those concerns.

But clearly, what’s happening now isn’t working. And for cities that hold their municipal elections to even-number years — such as Reno and Mesquite — turnout percentages tend to dwarf the numbers in the holdout cities of Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas.

Change is needed.

We’re confident there will be an immediate uptick in turnout. But even if there are problems, it can be rolled back.