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Open primaries effort rakes in $2 million, expected to meet its petition goal

By Kristen Hackbarth

Advocates championing a ballot initiative to change Nevada’s election system to include open primaries and ranked choice voting in the general election are celebrating a $2 million milestone this month. 

Nevada Voters First (NVF) representatives said not only did it have that massive haul of donations in the first three months of this year, it has nearly 65% of the signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot this November.

NVF’s initiative, if passed by Nevada voters, would change the state’s constitution to create open primaries, where voters could choose candidates regardless of whether they are registered as Republican or Democrat. 

Currently, Nevada’s primary is a closed election which means only people registered to one of those two major parties can vote for candidates within their party in the primary. 

Nonpartisans in primary elections only vote for nonpartisan offices, which are often few.

Nearly 37% of Nevada voters are registered as either nonpartisan or of some other minor party – more than either Democrat or Republican parties. 

“In the last 20 years, we’ve seen an increase in the trend of voters choosing not to register with either major party to the point it is now the largest segment of voters in the state, a clear reflection of the dissatisfaction voters feel in the current system,” said Doug Goodman, founder and executive director of Nevadans for Election Reform. 

Some critics have said that the state’s current system of closed primaries benefits members of those two major parties at the expense of all voters.

“If the major parties have time to completely overhaul their state leadership, or to censure and condemn their own elected officials, they have time to run their own nominating processes,” Daniel Stewart, a lawyer for Republican officials and groups, wrote in an op-ed published last year. “They need and deserve no public subsidies. It is ridiculous that Nevadans pay for private parties to settle their internal disputes.”

College of Southern Nevada history professor Sondra Cosgrove agrees. 

“Rather than subsidize the two major partisan primaries with Nevada taxpayer dollars, Better Voting Nevada would take the power from party insiders and give it to the voters so that they can elect people who actually represent the values and priorities of Nevadans,” she said.

If NVF has its way, all voters would get to decide which candidates head to the general election. The top five vote-getters in June would advance to the November general election where ranked choice voting would be used to determine a winner. 

As of mid-April, NVF has gathered more than 90,000 of the nearly 145,000 signatures it needs to get its initiative on the November ballot. Officials with the organization said they are well on their way to exceeding the number of signatures required. 

It’s not clear who’s behind the NVF effort. The coalition says it has the support of business, individuals and community organizations from across the state. 

It has also earned support from the Final-Five Fund, a wing of the Chicago-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit Institute for Political Innovation. IPI’s work focuses on innovation in politics and is supporting Final-Five Voting in a number of states in addition to Nevada.

Another ballot initiative supporting “Division Free Voting” is also being proposed by Ted Getschman who founded Common Sense for Uniting America. He said his goal is to end the two party system using star ratings for candidates rather than choosing one or ranking them. 

So far Getschman’s effort has fewer than 1,000 supporters.

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