Informed at the Polls: Ward-only vs. Citywide City Council Elections

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Informed at the Polls: Ward-only vs. Citywide City Council Elections

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KUNR

As voters head to the polls, KUNR explains the numerous ballot questions you'll have to decide.

Leading up to the Election, KUNR is breaking down the ballot questions city and county residents will see when they vote. In the final part of this series, KUNR's Kate McGee examines the question if -- in the general election -- should the city council voting system remain the same?...

If you voted in the primary back in June, you only got to vote for a city council candidate running to represent your ward -- and the one at-large seat. But on Election Day you might notice you get to weigh in on ALL the races in ALL the wards -- plus the At-Large seat.

If you like that system vote yes on City of Reno Ballot Question No. 1. It simply asks the voters if they want the system to remain unchanged.

"A 'No' vote means you want to be electing your city representatives in your ward in both the primary and the general [election]," said Jan Gilbert, a founder of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada -- or PLAN.

It seems simple, but the wording of the ballot question isn't quite as clear, at least according to advocacy groups like Gilbert's.

"I don't think people even read the ballot language. It's very confusing," Gilbert said.

PLAN contends the City Council wanted it that way -- approving the convoluted language as a way of confusing voters and thereby maintaining the status quo. But Councilwoman Sharon Zadra says she prefers the current system because it means all council members are paying attention to all the issues in the city -- rather than just the ones in his or her ward.

"I think having seven people sitting down to visit with...provides you much better representation." Zadra said in a phone interview.

But Dane Clausen--the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada--disagrees.

"Not every member of the city council can be knowledgeable about every area of a community. Not ever member feels responsibility and allegiance to evey part. Neighborhoods have their vested interests, whether it's roads or parks or whatever is in their neighborhood or needs to be."

Advocacy groups like the ACLU and PLAN also say ward only voting would allow more minority candidates -- and candidates with less money -- to run for local office.

"I think it opens the door toso many more people from different income levels and different walks of life to be represented in the government," said Truckee Meadows Political Scientist Fred Lokken.

Meanwhile, others have also questioned whether the city-wide system violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

At a January Reno City Council meeting, City Attorney John Kadlic used a potential scenario to illustrate the possible scenario.

"You could end up in sit for example a Hispanic candidate runs out of Ward Three. They get into general, they win in ward but lose citywide. That may cause the Department of Justice--if a complaint is made--to look at the situation and say, 'okay, maybe the situation you currently have in place isn't fair.'"

That very situation could happen in this election with Ward 3 council candidate Oscar Delgado, who's running against Cliff Young.

However, various other lawyers have concluded the city's current process does not violate the Voting Rights Act, but could in the future.

Regardless of the outcome at polls, this question is advisory only -- just to gauge voter opinion on the issue. If the city actually wanted to amend its charter, it would need the governor's signature.

Last legislative session, State Senator Sheila Leslie sponsored a bill to bring such a ward-only system up for a vote to the electorate, but Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed it because of its wording.

 

*Note: A previous edition of this story confused the ballot question options. It has been corrected and the story above is accurate.