Las Vegas Sun

April 19, 2019

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EDITORIAL:

Plan to consolidate election days has more rewards than drawbacks

For state lawmakers who are considering a bill to consolidate elections, here’s an idea of how to handle it.

Step one: Punch up the Clark County Election Department’s website, and click the “turnout” button on the results from this year’s primary voting in Southern Nevada.

Step two: Groan.

Step three: Approve the bill.

This year’s turnout says practically all you need to know about the need for the legislation, which would roll local elections into the general voting that takes place in even-numbered years.

On Tuesday, just 8.8 percent of registered voters cast ballots for municipal races in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City.

That’s the second-lowest turnout since 1999, and the second straight time fewer than 10 percent of voters turned out for a municipal primary.

Ugh.

And enough already.

Combining the elections would raise the stature of the municipal votes, make it easier for voters to take part and provide a much-needed reprieve from what can seem like an endless election cycle. It also will save taxpayer money that’s currently being overspent on elections that draw only a smattering of votes.

The consolidation bill is sitting in the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections committee, but must advance by Friday in order to remain viable this session.

To the committee, we say get it moving, ladies and gentlemen.

The low turnout is sad and has nothing to do with the quality of the candidates or the efforts of election officials. This year’s election featured competitive races among high-quality candidates. And for its part, the county has done an extraordinary job of making voting convenient through such means as early voting and the establishment of voting centers that allow residents to vote anywhere they’d like as opposed to a certain precinct.

It’s not as if the elections don’t matter, either. Local governments make decisions on several matters that hit close to home. Think short-term rental ordinances, public transportation and infrastructure projects like the upcoming three-year upgrade of Las Vegas Boulevard from Sahara Avenue to the 215 Beltway. Work on that project is set to begin in June.

The bill has its detractors, though, who say candidates for mayor and city council positions would be lost in the shuffle if they were thrown onto a ballot during a presidential election or midterm. Intense competition for campaign donations would put local candidates at a disadvantage compared with candidates for congressional and statewide positions, opponents say, making it difficult for them to buy ads and air time. Making their voices heard would be difficult.

There’s some validity to these concerns, no question.

But it’s still worth taking the step. When fewer than 10 percent of voters are casting ballots, that’s not particularly healthy for a participatory democracy. And there’s already some evidence that consolidation helps — when the city of Mesquite switched to the even-year cycle in 2016, its turnout jumped up about 50 percent.

Unfortunately, it’s possible that the opponents’ concerns could bear out if the legislation passes. But even if that’s the case, the issue could be revisited in future sessions, and the cycle could be re-established.

The bottom line is we know what doesn’t work in terms of drawing voters, and that’s the status quo.