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Early support for ranked choice voting should be a warning to partisans

Michael Schaus
Michael Schaus
Opinion
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The early support for a ballot proposal that aims to fundamentally overhaul our election system in Nevada — or simply break it, according to opponents — reflects the growing disdain for our era of increasingly cartoonish partisan politics. 

The proposed ballot question would establish open primaries in Nevada and provide ranked choice voting in the state’s general election — a process that allows voters to list their top five choices on the ballot, rather than merely vote for a single candidate. And while the concept is one that has gained significant national attention in recent years from all along the political spectrum, it has also earned opposition from an equally diverse field of critics.

In an announcement last month, Nevada backers of the proposal reported they had raised more than $2 million so far in 2022 and have already gathered more than 90,000 signatures — despite the fact that the question still faces legal challenges. Indeed, the initiative has gained support from an interesting mix of individuals and organizations, including certain labor unions, a number of casino executives and even the Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers. 

And while such apparent (early) support isn’t any guarantee the issue will make it on the ballot — let alone earn the approval of voters — it does illustrate an enduring and growing dissatisfaction among a large swath of the electorate fed up with the toxic partisan environment created by our current political process.  

After all, overhauling Nevada’s electoral process would hardly be a ringing endorsement of the status quo, which is little more than partisan warfare waged between two increasingly unrepresentative political tribes

Debates about whether ranked choice voting would actually do anything to temper partisan divides — let alone whether it would be a workable reform — are worth exploring. However, the mere fact that such a proposal has become a serious ballot proposal in a state where non-major party voters are the single largest voting bloc is, in and of itself, an indication that such divides are becoming too much for many to endure.  

Proponents have largely sold their proposed reform as a way to reduce the partisanship that dominates our political process — and it seems that at least 90,000 Nevadans and $2 million worth of donors are willing to buy that argument. Combined with what we know to be Nevada voters’ decidedly anti-partisan and complex view of policy issues, it would seem that the proposal’s early support is a consequence of both major parties failing to represent the plethora of voters who don’t regularly show up to Trump rallies or join Democratic-Socialists in condemning capitalism as exploitative profiteering.  

In other words, ranked choice voting may or may not be the correct solution, but the problem it claims it will solve seems to be well documented and broadly correct: A growing number of voters feel unrepresented by an increasingly divisive duopoly in electoral politics. 

Sadly, on a practical level, few in partisan politics seem willing to reflect on what this means for the electoral future of either (or both) major parties in Nevada. Indeed, the partisanship and divisiveness that is inadvertently driving support for things like ranked choice voting isn’t going to merely disappear after one side wins in the next election… it’s only going to get worse. 

The tribal and factious nature of modern politics means that, for most pundits and politicians, counseling caution against their party’s excess is viewed as heresy by the activists and partisans in charge. Partisans, after all, generally don’t like to be told that “both sides” are having trouble connecting with large swaths of the American public — they like to pretend only their opponents struggle in such a way. And thus, those who break from party norms are routinely vilified and pilloried, rather than regarded as mere moderating voices. For the loyalists in each political camp, radicalization is considered a trait that only exists among one’s opponents, and to suggest otherwise is to invite excommunication and ostracization. 

For this reason, political parties routinely fail to learn many lessons of significant value in the wake of elections, regardless of how they fare. Democrats who survive the potential “red wave” of 2022, for example, will undoubtedly take it as a sign that progressive values — without exception — are representative of the public’s newly-discovered woke policy preferences. Likewise, winning Republicans will likely believe their victories are the result of some deep-red conservative revolution turning the nation into a monolithic rejection of liberalism.

The truth, however, is the same (and just as mundane) as it has been for decades: The winning candidates in swing states like Nevada will largely have their opponents to thank for their victories — with a growing constituency of non-partisan voters reluctantly throwing their support behind the “lesser of two evils” in an increasingly partisan set of binary contests. 

While ranked choice voting may or may not be the “solution” to such increasingly unrepresentative political parties dominating the electoral system, the mere fact that it has become a serious suggestion in a state as swingy as Nevada illustrates how many voters feel abandoned by both major political parties. 

And that’s bad news for partisan grifters who seem to believe appeasing the base is more important than actually winning elections. 

Michael Schaus is a communications and branding consultant based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and founder of Schaus Creative LLC — an agency dedicated to helping organizations, businesses and activists tell their story and motivate change. He is the former communications director for Nevada Policy Research Institute and has more than a decade of experience in public affairs commentary as a columnist, political humorist, and radio talk show host. Follow him at SchausCreative.com or on Twitter at @schausmichael.

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