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Stories from the KUNR newsroom and regional partners related to the 2022 elections

Breaking down Nevada Question 3 on open primaries, ranked-choice voting for high-profile races

A piece of paper on the inside of a glass window reads, “Vote Votación,” with two arrows. From the exterior, the glass is reflecting a vertical red, white and blue banner that reads, “Vote Here.”
Lucia Starbuck
/
KUNR Public Radio
Story

Nevada has closed primary elections, which means people can only vote for candidates with the same political affiliation as their registration. Ballot Question 3 proposes to allow voters to cast their ballots for high-profile races regardless of party during the primary and add rank-choice voting for general elections.


What is currently in place in Nevada?

Nevada has closed primaries, which means voters can only cast a ballot for one candidate per race with the same party affiliation as their voter registration during primary elections. In general elections, Nevadans can vote for one candidate per race, regardless of party affiliation.


What would change if this measure passes?

Ballot Question 3 would create open primaries, which would allow voters to cast a ballot regardless of party, for top-ticket races, such as U.S. and state senators and representatives, governor and lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and controller, excluding the president.

The top five candidates would then move to the general election, where voters would rank their choices from 1-5, or less, or none of the above. If a candidate receives more than 50% of the votes, they will be declared the winner. If not, the person with the least amount will be dropped, and those who ranked that candidate as their first choice will have their vote moved to their second, and votes will be re-tabulated.


What do supporters say?

Supporters say the measure would empower nonpartisan voters who can’t vote for high-profile partisan races during Nevada’s closed primary elections. Registered Republicans, Democrats and nonpartisan voters are pretty evenly split in Nevada, according to the Nevada Secretary of State.

Sondra Cosgrove, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada and the head of a nonprofit focused on civics education called Vote Nevada, says the number of nonpartisan voters has been growing in response to polarizing and divisive politics, particularly amongst college students and veterans.

“That whole new group of nonpartisan [voters] is being shut out of a lot of our process during the primary because we’re a closed primary state,” said Cosgrove. “And I’ve been thinking, well, if we’re not hearing them, if their voices are absent, is that maybe one reason that we’re getting candidates that maybe we don’t feel really reflect all of us?”


What does the opposition say?

The ballot question has bipartisan opposition. Nevada’s Democratic governor and two U.S. Senators share similar concerns, saying the proposal is confusing, complicated and could undermine democracy. Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald said it could create “jungle primaries” and could lead to having only Democrats on the general election ballot, according to statements made during a Mt. Rose Republican Women Dinner.

Not all voting rights activists are convinced, either.

“I think that there is a level of accessibility, and does this actually make it easier for everyday Nevadans to participate in an election system?” asked Emily Persaud-Zamora, executive director of Silver State Voices, which is a coalition that works on civic engagement.

She argues that changing an election through a ballot referendum leaves some people out of the conversation, particularly communities of color.

“Beyond that, if we were a state that already saw like 100%, or close to, voter turnout, I think that maybe this could be a different conversation,” said Persaud-Zamora.

Nevada saw more than 77% of eligible voters participate in the 2020 presidential election and had a voter turnout of over 62% during the 2018 midterm. Turnout for primary elections is typically around a quarter of eligible voters, according to the Nevada Secretary of State.


How does Nevada compare to other states?

There are nine states in the U.S. with completely closed primary elections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

More than 50 city municipalities, counties and two states have implemented some form of ranked-choice voting, according to FairVote, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on election reforms, including ranked-choice voting.


What happens next if it’s approved?

Since the measure aims to change the Nevada state constitution, it will need to be approved by voters over two consecutive elections in 2022 and again in 2024.


Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Transcript

NATALIE VAN HOOZER, HOST: Nevada has closed primary elections. That means when voters cast their ballot, they can only vote for candidates with the same political affiliation as their registration. But ballot question number three proposes to overhaul that and add rank-choice voting for general elections. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck has more.

LUCIA STARBUCK: Ballot question three would create open primaries, which would allow voters to cast a ballot for high-profile races in the state regardless of party. The top five candidates would then move on to the general election, where voters would rank their choices from 1-to-5. If a candidate receives more than 50 percent, they would be declared the winner. If not, the person with the least amount would be dropped, and the votes will be re-tabulated.

Sondra Cosgrove teaches history at the College of Southern Nevada and is head of a nonprofit focused on civics education called Vote Nevada. She says this empowers nonpartisan voters, particularly college students and veterans, who have been turned off by the major parties.

EXCERPT FROM SONDRA COSGROVE: If we’re not hearing them, if their voices are absent, is that maybe one reason that we’re getting candidates that maybe we don’t feel really reflect all of us?

STARBUCK: Nevada is pretty evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisans. But not all voting rights activists are convinced this would increase participation. There’s also opposition from top-elected Democrats and the head of the state Republican Party.

Emily Persaud-Zamora is executive director of Silver State Voices, a coalition that works on civics engagement.

EXCERPT FROM EMILY PERSAUD-ZAMORA: There is a level of accessibility, and ... does this actually make it easier for everyday Nevadans to participate in an election system?

STARBUCK: More than 50 cities and counties and two states have implemented some form of ranked-choice voting, according to FairVote. Since ballot question three aims to change the state constitution, it would need to be approved over two consecutive elections.

For KUNR News, I’m Lucia Starbuck.

VAN HOOZER: This story was produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

This story aired on KUNR FM on Thursday, Oct. 20.

Corrected: October 19, 2022 at 10:43 AM PDT
This measure would allow voters to pick one candidate for primary elections and enable rank-choice voting for general elections only. A previous version of this story inaccurately described the process during a primary election.
Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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