Nevada justices mulling open primary, ranked-choice measure
The Nevada Supreme Court is considering whether an initiative will advance to the ballot in November to ask voters if they want to create open primaries and ranked-choice voting in general elections.
Justices took no immediate action after hearing arguments Wednesday on an appeal by attorneys representing Democrats who argue the proposed measure violates a state constitutional requirement that ballot questions address just one subject.
Initiative proponents, backed by the Nevada Voters First political action committee, say the measure dubbed “Better Voting Nevada” addresses only one subject — the method for electing representatives for Congress, statewide offices and the Legislature.
A state judge in Carson City ruled in January that the measure met Nevada’s rules with “plain language (that) is straightforward, succinct, and non-argumentative.”
Nevada Voters First says it is ready to submit by June 29 more than the 140,000 signatures needed to qualify the proposed constitutional amendment for the ballot.
Voters would need to pass it twice, in 2022 and 2024, for it to become law.
The initiative would change Nevada’s closed primaries, currently involving only members of political parties, to open voting regardless of party affiliation.
Proponents note that nonpartisan voters, now nearly 29% of the state’s 1.8 million active voters, are unable to vote for partisan offices in primary elections. Democrats make up 33% of voters in Nevada, and Republicans almost 30%.
Primary voters would rank five candidates in order of preference and the top five vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. Balloting then would also use ranked-choice order-of-preference.
The appeal to the Supreme Court came on a lawsuit filed by Churchill County voter and Democratic party staff member Nathan Helton to try to stop Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske from putting the Nevada Voters First measure on the ballot.
The Nevada Independent reportedthat during Supreme Court arguments, Justice James Hardesty noted the petition description of the initiative does not address a voting option unique to Nevada — “None of These Candidates” — and questioned how selections for that option would be tabulated.
The initiative says votes for “None of These Candidates” would be tabulated, reported and made public but would not be counted to elect or rank candidates for partisan offices.
The Independent reported that opposition to the initiative emerged last month with creation of the “Let Nevadans Vote” coalition, which is pushing to let voters withdraw their signatures from the petition.
Prominent Democrats including Gov. Steve Sisolak and U.S. Sens. Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto also have voiced opposition to ranked-choice voting. They’ve argued the system is confusing and time-consuming and would lead to votes being thrown out.