| Jess Hillyeah | Las Vegas Sun |
A proposed ballot initiative seeks to amend the Nevada Constitution to establish open top-five primaries and ranked-choice voting for general elections, but it isn’t without its critics.
The Nevada Voters First political action committee is spearheading the initiative and must collect 140,777 signatures from registered Nevada voters by June 29 to qualify for the 2022 general election ballot. Approval of the question would call on the Nevada Legislature to institute the changes to the state constitution by July 1, 2025.
”People here are used to change. … It’s not hard.
The proposal would establish open primary elections, which would feature all candidates regardless of party affiliation, to square off in ranked choice fashion. The top five finishers would advance to the general election, which would also be conducted using ranked choice voting.
About 30% of registered voters in Nevada list themselves as nonpartisan, and about 40% aren’t registered as Republican or Democrat, said Sondra Cosgrove, a representative with Nevada Voters First and a past president of the League of Women Voters of Nevada.
“That’s a lot of people who are being shut out of important races,” Cosgrove said.
In 2020, Nevada’s Democratic presidential caucuses used ranked-choice voting in which voters selected three to five presidential preferences on a paper ballot, Cosgrove said.
“Nobody thought it was confusing then,” said Cosgrove, who is also chair of the Nevada secretary of state’s advisory committee on participatory democracy.
Still, opposition remains.
There are already barriers in place for voters, from technological to language, said Eric Jeng, director of outreach for the Asian Community Development Council, which has been working to provide Chinese translations of ballots for Chinese-speaking voters to understand.
“This will lead us backward,” Jeng said at the Let Nevadans Vote news conference. “We believe in educating and empowering voters to make voter and civic engagement easy and equitable. We want to make sure counting ballots should be fast, should be quick, and making sure we trust the system.”
Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria said he wasn’t for or against the initiative. A change to ranked choice voting would initially be a strain on election administrators, he said, because they would have to train themselves and teach the public. Ultimately, though, he said it would be doable.
The tabulation process is automated, Gloria said, and the system allows the registrar to rank the top three candidates. Depending on “how deep” voters would want to go with the ranking, election administrators might have to reprogram their system to allow for the top-five candidates to be ranked.
Ranked-choice voting, he said, is something the voters would be able to learn.
“We don’t give the general public enough credit. They learn,” Gloria said, pointing to the vote-by-mail changes in the 2020 election as well as the change from punch-card ballots to voting on computers. “People here are used to change. It’s not hard,” he said.
Ruben Murillo Jr., a retired special education teacher from Clark County School District and a former leader of the Clark County and Nevada Education Associations, said he didn’t like making ranked choice voting part of the state constitution. It’s more difficult to make changes and modifications to a constitutional amendment as opposed to state law, he said.
Opponents to the proposed question have filed lawsuits aimed at keeping it off the ballot, however a Carson City judge at the beginning of 2022 rejected a claim that the changes to both primary and general elections violated the single-subject rule for ballot initiatives.
Ten U.S. cities currently use ranked-choice voting for municipal elections,
Maine, in 2016, became the first state in which voters approved the use of ranked choice balloting. Ranked choice voting is used in all of Maine’s state-level primary elections, and in general elections only for federal offices, according to the Maine secretary of state’s website. The Maine Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion that said state-level general elections must be determined by a plurality of votes.
Ranked choice voting ballot initiatives have been proposed in other states. Alaska in 2020 is the only other state where such a ballot measure has been approved.
Cosgrove reasons that ranked choice is a natural behavior, so using it in the voting booth should be no different.
When she is going to a restaurant, for example, she may decide that she wants a Greek salad. But if the restaurant doesn’t have a Greek salad, she may opt for chicken tenders. And if they don’t have that, she’ll just have ice cream.
“We do ranked choice all the time,” she said.