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Better Voting Nevada Initiative: By Nevadans for Nevadans

Douglas Goodman
Douglas Goodman
Sondra Cosgrove
Sondra Cosgrove
Opinion
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The Better Voting Nevada ballot initiative is an effort by Nevadans for Nevadans to empower each of us to vote our conscience without fear of wasting a vote or having to settle for the lesser of two evils. We have arrived at this point after eight years of hard work by Nevadans to address the hyper-partisanship and factionalism infecting our political environment.  

While the Institute for Political Innovation (IPI), a national group focused on Final Five Voting with recent success passing a similar ballot question in Alaska, is backing the initiative, the work to bring ranked-choice voting (RCV) to Nevada began in 2013.

That year, Executive Director of Nevadans for Election Reform Doug Goodman connected with FairVote, a top organization advocating for RCV, and also connected with Open Primaries, a group advocating for nonpartisan open primaries. Doug then drafted a proposal to implement a top-three primary with RCV for Nevada’s general election. His many meetings with legislators and advocacy groups resulted in the 2015 Legislative Bill Draft Request (BDR) 1149 to implement RCV. The resulting bill, SB499, sadly ended up amended beyond the original intent. However, the flame was ignited.

Continuing under the Nevada Election Modernization and Reform Act, RCV efforts continued through another bill introduced by Sen. Settelmeyer during the 2017 legislative session. That bill, SB103, did not receive a hearing. The Senate Majority leader told a reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal that the bill did not deserve to be heard.

Following the 2017 session, Doug registered Nevadans for Election Reform as a political action committee. In 2018, he filed the Greater Choice Greater Voice ballot initiative. Unable to secure the large sum of money needed to gather petition signatures, the initiative failed to qualify. Many Nevadans and various groups endorsed that initiative, however, including the League of Women Voters of Nevada. 

Despite this setback, Nevadans for Election Reform continued to move forward.

Because Nevada is a Dillons Rule state, the Legislature has administrative power over cities, so the Legislature must approve it before a city could implement RCV. One mechanism to do this would be through a local option bill, which would allow cities to implement RCV through an ordinance. Prior to the 2019 legislative session, Nevadans for Election Reform lined up a Democratic sponsor and a Republican co-sponsor for a local option bill — but once the session started, the Democratic sponsor said there wasn’t support for hearing it.

Despite this roadblock, RCV re-appeared in 2020 when the state Democratic Party used RCV in their presidential nominating caucus’ early voting process. There was no official exit poll taken, but the Democratic voters we spoke with said they found the process easy and favorable. This aligns with the results of RCV exit polls in other states.

Sondra then created Vote Nevada in 2020 as a local civic engagement nonprofit; it has now joined the drive to bring final five voting to Nevada. 

Election reform efforts continued during the 2021 legislative session through Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, who filed four bills to ensure all voters have a voice and are fairly represented.:

  • SB121 reintroduced SB103 from 2017 to create a top-two nonpartisan primary
  • SB462 proposed a legislative reapportionment and redistricting advisory committee
  • SB256 introduced the use of electronic signatures on ballot initiative petitions
  • SJR9 attempted to implement the Fair Maps initiative legislatively

None of the four bills received a hearing, so election reformers once again find themselves relegated to the ballot initiative process, which requires a significant number of dollars. After RCV saw success in Alaska, IPI decided to make an investment in Nevada. The initial funding has facilitated writing and filing the “final five” ballot question and will help defend the initiative in an upcoming court battle. Once we move forward into signature gathering, we anticipate more resources will be Nevada-based.

Bottom line: Better Voting Nevada is a local initiative driven by Nevadans. 

Doug Goodman is founder and executive director of Nevadans for Election Reform. Sondra Cosgrove is the former president of the League of Women Voters of Nevada and founder and executive director of both Fair Maps Nevada and Vote Nevada.

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