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Plan to move Nevada primary closer to general election likely to face tough road in legislature next year


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: A proposal by Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, to move Nevada’s primary election back to September to shorten the campaign season didn’t get out of the starting gate in 2011.

The Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee held one hearing on Assembly Bill 157, which had cosponsors from both major political parties. But it also saw serious opposition from state election officials and never came up for a vote.

Even so, Hickey said he would like to again pursue the idea of moving the primary closer to the November general election in the 2013 legislative session. The Assembly GOP caucus leader announced his intentions Monday while discussing proposed reforms to the campaign finance and lobbying reporting laws. Hickey said he is not set on a particular date for the primary.

But the election season goes on too long with the June primary and voters lose interest, he said.

“In shortening the length of the campaign season we might actually create an electorate that is actively engaged rather than being turned off and tuned out by the time November rolls around,” Hickey said.

It would also reduce the amount of time Democratic and Republican candidates would have to campaign against each other, Hickey said.

“By doing so we might even make progress in restoring a measure of civility to campaigning or at the very least, shorten the period we make enemies of each other in the dog days of summer before we arrive in Carson City before the cold days of winter needing to make peace with each other,” he said.

The late Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, was an advocate for moving the primary back to September.

But several Nevada election officials opposed the change in the 2011 hearing, arguing a September primary is too close to the November general election to ensure ballots can be prepared and delivered to voters, especially overseas military personnel.

In 2005 the Legislature changed the primary from September to August to accommodate the time concerns of election officials. August primaries were held in 2006 and 2008.

But Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax said at the 2011 hearing that the August date proved imperfect because of the heat of the summer in Las Vegas for those campaigning and because of concerns that many potential voters were on vacation.

The Legislature changed the date again in 2009 to the second Tuesday in June, which was used in the 2010 election season. The primary this year is June 12.

The Secretary of State’s office also opposed the change back to September during the 2011 hearing, citing the same concern about the U.S. Department of Justice requirement for mailing out overseas ballots.

Lomax said today that a September primary is not doable because of the need to comply with the federal regulations for overseas ballots. The August primary was not popular either because of the heat and concerns about participation by voters, he said.

“I understand what they say about the additional campaigning . . . but early voting starts here next week and there is nothing going on but signs posted around,” Lomax said. “So I don’t know how much that turns off the voters.”

The only significant television or radio advertising on the air in Southern Nevada is not local but is related to the presidential race, he said.

The second Tuesday in June has proved to be a good date for a variety of reasons, and Lomax said it should be left alone.

Hickey acknowledged that a bill changing the primary will face opposition from many lawmakers. There are arguments that a shorter campaign season favors incumbents, he said.

“I really do think that with 10- and 12-month campaigns every other year we take ourselves away from doing the work in the interim,” he said. “I think it does contribute to the animosity and the distance that members of both parties feel from each other with long and heated campaigns such as they are. And maybe more importantly I really do think we wear the public out and I think we turn a lot of them off.”

Audio clips:

Assemblyman Pat Hickey says a shorter campaign season might improve relationships between the two parties:

052212Hickey1 :16 with each other.”

Hickey says a shorter campaign season could lead to an actively engaged electorate:

052212Hickey2 :32 November rolls around.”

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