Las Vegas Sun

July 21, 2018

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Growing number of Nevada voters eschews 2-party system

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Steve Marcus

Voters sign in with kiosk specialists during primary election voting at the Green Valley Presbyterian Church in Henderson Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

Tens of thousands more voters were registered as neither Democrat or Republican this midterm election compared with 2014, with most of that growth coming from Libertarians.

Voters outside the Democratic and Republican primaries had a limited ballot of nonpartisan candidates in their jurisdiction to choose from. A slew of ideological differences separate candidates and voters outside the two-party system, but in the November general election, those ballots could tip the scales for Republican or Democratic candidates.

Some of the biggest growth among independent voters is in the 1st Congressional District, a relatively safe blue district for Democratic Rep. Dina Titus. Voters identifying as Libertarian, independent, nonpartisan or “other” accounted for roughly 50,000 voters in the district in 2014, rising to just under 80,000 this midterm.

UNLV Professor Michael Bowers said independent voters are diverse politically and don’t fall in one category. He said independent growth in Titus’ district could be the result of the area’s demographics.

“It has been shown that young people and ethnic minorities are more likely these days to register as Independents,” he said in an email. “CD1 has a large population of both, and I would think that might explain the large Independent population.”

Political designations across the spectrum have seen generally consistent growth since the 2014 midterm, including the Independent American Party of Nevada. The party is the third-largest in Nevada with more than 64,000 active registered voters, though outnumbered by the state’s more than 300,000 nonpartisan voters. The Independent American Party of Nevada has come out in favor of the Bundy family, who have challenged the federal government on land issues.

Bowers said the resurgence of the “Sagebrush Rebellion,” a roughly half-century-old effort to turn federal land over to states, is likely the source of the growth within the Independent American Party of Nevada. He said the spectrum of independent, nonpartisan voters can be to the right of conservative all the way to the left of liberal.

“Some are people who fall into the cachet of voting for the person and not the party,” he said. “Some are people who are disgusted by the lack of action in D.C. and blame it on partisanship. Some are people who are moderate and don’t subscribe to Democrats or Republicans and can’t join either. Some are too liberal to join the Democrats and some are too conservative to join the Republicans. They are a disparate group and cannot be put into one category.”

Members of the Libertarian Party of Nevada make up roughly 1 percent of active registered voters and only slightly outnumber the nearly 14,000 active voters identified as “other” in Nevada as of May, but have seen consistent growth in all four of Nevada’s congressional districts since 2014.

The Libertarian party does not hold a primary to determine its November candidates. They held local and state conventions earlier in the year when dues-paying members voted on the names that will appear on the general election ballot. It takes cash to operate, said party spokesman Sam Toll, and this may have been why the party chose to select nominees by convention. Toll, who joined the party in 2016, said he would be in favor of opening the voting up. He also said the state’s primary system should be open to nonpartisan voters.

New Libertarians are generally younger and more diverse, Toll said, with some growth coming from voters who are increasingly turned off by Republicans and Democrats.

“We’re going to take advantage of this opportunity that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump dropped in our laps in the 2016 election,” he said. “We’re really focusing on being inclusive.”

Libertarians have been working to create a party infrastructure to help candidates and nominate people who talk about relatable issues like health care, said Steve Brown, Clark County Libertarian Party chairman and 3rd Congressional District candidate. He said 2016 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson broke the party’s vote record.

Brown and Toll said the party is moving away from candidates who focus on niche debates that most voters don’t identify with and toward people who focus on kitchen-table issues.

“The difference between 2016 and 2018 is the difference between night and day,” Brown said. “We are so far ahead of where we were as a party two years ago where we are today.”