Assembly urged to eliminate citywide voting for supervisors
The Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee was urged Thursday to give voters the chance to change four city charters including Carson City’s, limiting voting for supervisors to residents of each candidate’s ward.
At present, candidates for Carson supervisor must live in their ward, but in both the primary and general elections, the vote is citywide.
Longtime political activist Ande Engleman said she convinced supervisors to put the issue on the ballot once before and the balloting came out tied at 8,507 yes and the same number no.
“Since then, they’ve refused to put it on the ballot again,” she said.
Engleman said Assemblyman Pete Livermore, R-Carson City, a former supervisor, supports the change.
Henderson runs their elections like Carson, allowing citywide voting for all council members in both the primary and general elections. Sparks and Reno limit primary elections to members of the ward the council candidate will represent, but citywide participation for all seats in the general election.
Senate Bill 304 wouldn’t make the change in those cities but, instead, put the issue on the ballot for the people of each community to decide. It passed the Senate unanimously.
Betty Hicks, who has run unsuccessfully for Reno city council, said it should be the people in each ward who decide. Rob Joiner, an unsuccessful supervisor candidate in the 2010 elections, said many people he saw during the campaign thought voting was limited to residents of the ward he was seeking to represent.
In addition, he said, “it’s much more effective costwise to run in your ward.”
Citywide campaigns, said several speakers, are often so much more expensive it keeps many candidates out of the contests.
Lonnie Feemster, head of the Reno/Sparks NAACP, said the cost of citywide campaigning keeps many minority candidates from running.
And Jan Gilbert of PLAN said these cities are the last four in the state not voting by ward.
The measure was introduced by Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who said the legislation is “about basic democracy, allowing residents to choose their representatives.”
She pointed out in a memo to the committee that lawmakers all run in their district, not countywide.
She too raised the issue of cost saying “a person can run for local office without the deep pockets needed for a citywide campaign.”
Reno officials said they don’t oppose the bill but want changes made before it is approved. Among those changes is to delay its implementation if passed until 2014 so the Reno at-large councilmember, who will be elected in 2012, doesn’t have his or her term cut off in two years.
Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza told the committee she believes Reno already has the best system – elect by ward in the primary but then allow all voters to choose the members of the council in the general election. She said she believes changing to a ward vote in the general would actually disenfranchise some voters.
She and Mayor Bob Cashell both pointed out they aren’t arguing for something that will benefit them personally since both are termed out after their current terms in office.
But Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, said she believes the ward vote is better.
“Frankly, this is an issue of fairness,” she said.
She said people elected by voters in their wards are accountable to their wards.