Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, says Nevada’s current primary system unfairly disenfranchises nearly a quarter of registered voters.
He has filed a statutory initiative that would open Nevada’s primary election to all candidates, no matter which party they belong to.
Instead of a Democratic and a Republican primary, there would just be one primary for each elected office that all filed candidates could run in. The top two finishers, he said, would meet in the general election.
Right now, only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary and only Republicans vote in the GOP primary.
The initiative would apply to partisan non-presidential elections including state constitutional officers and legislative offices as well as congressional elections.
Critics have long argued the closed primary system gives too much power to the two major parties.
“You’re forced to join a private club in order to have a voice in your government,” said Kieckhefer.
The largest group of voters other than those in the two major parties, he pointed out, are the non-partisan voters who the Secretary of State’s office says now make up just under a quarter of all registered voters. In the wake of automatic voter registration through the DMV, he said that category is growing rapidly because of the policy that the default registration is non-partisan.
“People have been moving away from political parties for a number of reasons,” he said. “They are taxpaying citizens of this state who deserve to have a voice in their government. Frankly, taxpayers run a nominating process for these elections that not all taxpayers are allowed to participate in.”
Kieckhefer said his initiative moves the election system “from a party-driven process to a candidate-driven process.”
He said the initiative also fixes a couple of other problems with the existing primary rules. One is that, if two people of the same party are the only ones who file for an office, the winner is decided in the primary and the other party and non-partisans never get to vote because there is no general election. That has happened quite a few times.
He said the initiative also reduces the power of the caucuses over who the candidates are. Without party support, he said it’s much harder to raise money.
“If you don’t receive the blessing of the caucus, it’s almost impossible to raise money,” he said. “Your pathway to victory in a primary election is extremely limited.”
Kieckhefer denied that this is some radical change pointing out that many local boards including Carson City’s Board of Supervisors runs non-partisan elections without party labels.
Nevada is one of just nine states that still has a closed primary system.
For most of the county and city panels doing it that way, the top two finishers in the primary go on to the general election. In his plan, he said there will always be a general election.
“People in Nevada are accustomed to this,” he said. “We do this now.”
He filed the initiative with the Secretary of State’s office earlier this month.
In order to get the initiative before the Legislature, backers will have to collect at least 97,598 signatures of registered Nevada voters, including at least 24,400 in each of the state’s four petition districts — which are the state’s four congressional districts.
If they succeed, the statutory initiative would be presented to the next Nevada Legislature. If lawmakers fail to act on it, the proposed statute would go to the next election for voters to decide.
If voters approve the statute, lawmakers are prohibited from amending it for at least three years.
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