| The Nevada Independent |
The rulings arrived just before a statutory June 29 deadline for groups to submit the necessary signatures to qualify an initiative for the November general election ballot.
If approved by a majority of voters in 2022 and 2024, the voting initiative would overhaul elections in the state, opening primaries to all voters regardless of party registration and providing voters with an opportunity to rank multiple candidates by preference during general elections. The initiative still faces staunch opposition from prominent Nevada Democrats, including Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Nevada Voters First, the group backing the voting overhaul, is on track to submit well over the roughly 140,000 signatures required for qualification, after announcing on Monday that it has gathered more than 266,000 signatures.
Ranked-choice voting and open primaries
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nevada Voters First, allowing the ranked-choice voting initiative to proceed to the ballot and shutting down Democrats’ legal opposition to the measure.
”Claims of logrolling — including a less popular, unrelated provision unlikely to pass by itself with a more popular idea or provision — fell short.
That 4-3 ruling backs up a lower court ruling from January , in which Carson City District Court Judge James Wilson rejected three claims raised against the initiative. Wilson concluded that changes to both primary and general elections did not violate a rule that ballot initiatives must focus on a single subject.
Proponents of the initiative argued the changes would empower Nevada’s growing share of nonpartisan voters, who make up nearly a third of the state’s registered voters and are unable to vote for partisan offices in primary elections.
In the majority opinion written by Justice Douglas Herndon, the court determined the initiative did not violate the single-subject rule as long as its provisions were “functionally related and germane to each other.” He said claims of logrolling — including a less popular, unrelated provision unlikely to pass by itself with a more popular idea or provision — fell short in persuading the justices, as plaintiffs were unable to point to which of the two provisions “is the primary, and thus, the more popular, change proposed.”
“[T]he changes are necessarily connected and pertaining to each other and to the subject of how specified officeholders are presented to voters and elected,” the opinion states.
Herndon disagreed with concerns that the initiative’s 200-word description of effect included on signature petition forms had “briefly, but clearly and nonargumentatively” summarized how the initiative would change the state’s election system.
“With so few words in which to explain the effect of an initiative petition, a challenger will always be able to find some ramification of or provision in an initiative petition that the challenger feels is not adequately addressed in the description of effect,” the order states.
Three justices — Elissa Cadish, James Hardesty and Lidia Stiglich — dissented, saying they believed the initiative violated the single-subject rule and had a faulty description of effect.
In November, Todd Bice, a Las Vegas attorney who registered the Nevada Voters First PAC, filed the ranked-choice voting initiative , seeking a ballot measure that calls for overhauling the state’s elections by allowing voters to participate in primary elections regardless of party affiliation, and implementing top-five ranked-choice voting in the general election.
The effort has been spearheaded by the Institute for Political Innovation , a nonprofit founded last year by Katherine M. Gehl , an author, philanthropist and former CEO of a Wisconsin-based high-tech food-manufacturing company.
Since November, Democrats have mounted opposition to the initiative, including via a legal challenge filed by Nathan Helton, a Democratic Party-aligned Churchill County voter, who was represented in the case by attorneys well known for representing Democratic candidates and causes in court, including Bradley Schrager and Marc Elias.
High-profile Democratic politicians in Nevada, including Sisolak and Sens. Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto, have also voiced their opposition to ranked-choice voting . In May, they joined the “Let Nevadans Vote” coalition in decrying the proposed voting changes as overly confusing and time-consuming.
In a statement, a spokesman for Nevada Voters First said the organization was “thrilled” with the court’s decision and that it would ensure “a robust conversation over the coming months about our outdated election system.”
“We believe this is a victory for all Nevadans as it will allow voters the opportunity to have more choice and more voice in the electoral process,” the statement read.