Nevada senator proposes open non-presidential primaries

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Republican state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer has proposed a ballot initiative to open non-presidential primary elections to voters of all political parties.

The initiative would create a primary system for partisan races in which all candidates would appear on the ballot, meaning nonpartisan voters would be able to participate without changing their affiliation.

Nonpartisan voters were previously excluded under the state’s closed primary system which permitted only registered Republicans and Democrats to weigh in, state officials said.

Under the existing law, the contender with the most votes in each party primary moves on to the general election, but if a race only draws candidates from one party, the person with the most votes automatically wins the general election.

Some campaign watchdogs and government advocates have argued the process gives both major political parties undue influence over elections that should be decided by a wide variety of voters.

Registered nonpartisan voters account for 23% of the state’s active voters, officials said. Third-party voters or people registered with the Independent American Party, the Libertarian Party and other parties make up 6%.

Kieckhefer submitted the ballot proposal to the state secretary’s office earlier this month.

“The simple fact of the matter is that partisan elections are very often decided in the primary. If you aren’t of the party who has the majority in your respective districts, you ultimately get very little to no say in your government and that’s not how the system should work,” Kieckhefer said.

The ballot proposal would change the system so that the top two vote-getters to advance to the general election, regardless of political party, meaning contests could come down to a pair of contenders from the same party.

If the initiative passes, it could also reduce the number of noncompetitive contests, Kieckhefer said.

More than a dozen state and local officer-holders were automatically elected in 2018 after failing to draw a general election opponent, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.

“This is a system that empowers voters, rather than political parties,” Kieckhefer told the Journal. “This is a system that gives every voter a chance to elect who represents them.“

The initiative would apply to state constitutional and legislative races and elections for the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, officials said. It would not be utilized for presidential elections.

Supporters must gather 97,600 valid signatures to put the ballot to a statewide vote, officials said. The initiative would then go to the 2021 Legislature, and could go before voters in 2022.

Nevada is one of nine states with a closed primary and only three others — Washington, California and Nebraska — operate under the top-two system.


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