by Doug Goodman
The results of the election and subsequent events raise the serious question asked in the headline of this piece.
Article 4 Section 12 of the Constitution states the process to fill vacancies in the Legislature caused by the death or resignation of a member
”… provided, that this section shall apply only in cases where no biennial election or any regular election at which county officers are to [be] elected takes place between the time of such death or resignation and the next succeeding session of the legislature.”
Filling the seat of a newly elected legislator who dies prior to the start of the session (or dies before the election but too late to have his or her name removed from the ballot) clearly lies within the intent of this section.
But politics was not as we now know it when that language was written. The idea of running for higher office mid-term, a win-win for the elected official seeking higher office immediately after being elected was most likely not in the mind of the drafters. These scenarios, which we have just witnessed, present at least the perception of political opportunism and suppress the will of the voters who elected officials with the valid assumption that they would actually serve in those positions.
Two “safe” state senators ran for other offices and were elected, leaving their Senate seats vacant. The result is that more than 118,000 voters had no say in who will now represent them in the state Senate. Instead, seven county commissioners selected the persons with extremely limited input from voters (those few who publicly testified at the County Commission meetings).
An assemblyman (Chris Brooks) re-elected with 64 percent of the vote out of more than 14,000 votes (53 percent of the district’s 27,000 voters) applied for one of the vacant Senate seats and was appointed, creating a vacancy in the district. Seven county commissioners selected from six candidates who will represent those 27,000 voters for the next two years. Besides the handful of voters who attended the commission meeting and testified for one of the candidates, again: District voters had no say in who will represent them.
Following re-election with 81 percent of the vote out of 8,300 votes (39 percent of the district’s 21,000 voters), an assemblywoman (Olivia Diaz) decided to run for Las Vegas City Council — and then resigned from the seat to which she was just re-elected. Seven county commissioners will appoint who represents those 22,000 voters from a list of five candidates. Again, the voters will have no real input.
I find it hard to believe the elected officials in these cases didn’t know well before the November election what their plans for other offices were. Even if not definite, surely they had to have some inclination.
Voter suppression can take many forms and be intentional or unintentional. Neither should be acceptable. For state assemblypersons or state senators to claim a mandate or that they represent their constituents requires actual voter input. Placing legislators in a position where they can claim neither is unfair to the voters.
Changing the Nevada Constitution is a lengthy process, as it should be. A change should not be contemplated unless absolutely necessary and a legislative remedy is not possible. I believe these recent scenarios qualify.
Any situation that suppresses the will of the voter or denies voters the ability to choose their representatives in any elected body must be addressed and corrected. Regretfully, four of the five legislative vacancies created in November fall into this realm. I suggest one of two options:
- Require officials to resign their current position before filing for a new office and within the filing time frame for candidacy for their current office to allow interested candidates to file for the seat being vacated.
- Create a “provisional” category for candidates who run for office with the contingency that they will serve only if the incumbent wins the new office sought.
Simply put, an elected official who is elected or re-elected prior to the start of a legislative session should not be allowed to resign that position in order to accept an appointment or run for another elected office.
The 80th regular session of the Legislature begins in one month. It will contain five legislators who will be making decisions for voters who never voted for them. Only one of those lawmakers deserved to be appointed under the spirit of Article IV, Section 12. We need to fix the problem in the other four situations so it is not repeated.
Doug Goodman is the founder and executive director of Nevadans for Election Reform. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org