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Voters reject energy choice ballot question, as other initiatives advance on comfortable margins

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
Election 2018Energy

The Energy Choice Initiative, the most expensive ballot question in Nevada history, has gone down in defeat following Tuesday’s midterm losing with nearly two-thirds of voters opposed, a shocking turnaround after the same measure passed by 72 to 28 percent in 2016.

The initiative, which proposed amending the state’s Constitution requiring a transition away from the current electric monopoly model to a competitive retail electric market by 2023, drove millions of dollars worth of TV, digital and radio ads over a complex energy policy into the homes of Nevada voters, who in turn decided to reject an initiative that many of them likely voted for just two years ago.

The key difference came in the form of an unprecedented $63 million spent by the state’s primarily electric utility, NV Energy. After staying neutral on the measure in the last election cycle, the utility swung back hard, and spent more money to defeat the ballot question than raised by any other candidate.

The measure was largely funded by two entities with a tense history with the utility — the Las Vegas Sands and data center giant Switch. Both companies chafed when assessed multimillion dollar exit fees after applying to leave the utility in 2015. Although the two companies put up a similarly large sum — nearly $33 million — the measure was overwhelmingly rejected by voters on Tuesday, with fewer than a third of voters voting in favor of the measure.

The other five ballot measures saw more success on Tuesday, with initiatives exempting sales tax on feminine hygiene products, requiring automatic voter registration during trips to the DMV and a slew for protections of crime victims all becoming law.

Here’s a look at how all six ballot measures fared on Election Day:

Question 1:

Question 1, also known as "Marsy's Law," sailed on the statewide ballot with more than 60 percent of voters in approval.

The measure would enshrine in the state Constitution the right for victims and people close to victims to be informed about hearings in their case. It also specifies that restitution money is paid to victims before governments collect other fees.

The ballot question is funded by billionaire Henry T. Nicholas, whose sister Marsy was killed in California in 1983, and is similar to measures passed or being pursued in other states. It is supported by Gov. Brian Sandoval and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.

Opponents include the ACLU, which says it could interfere with the rights of the accused, who have more at stake in the judicial process than do victims. Others have raised concerns about the costs needed to implement it — officials from the Legislative Counsel Bureau have not been able to peg the measure’s fiscal impact.

Proponents mounted a far more organized campaign than the opposition, pouring more than $8 million into the effort, scoring big-name endorsements and blanketing the Las Vegas area with bright purple signs calling for equal rights for victims of crime.

Question 2:

Voters also backed Question 2, also known as the “Pink Tax” exemption, by a little more than 56 percent on Tuesday.

The measure would end the sales tax on sanitary napkins and tampons in the state. Proponents say these products are a basic medical necessity and the taxes on them are discriminatory because the products are only used by women. Opponents say that an exemption will reduce tax revenue in the state.

State lawmakers passed the initiative almost unanimously last session, but changes to Nevada’s sales tax require a vote of the people to take effect.

Nevada fiscal analysts projected that state and local governments would lose between $6 million and $8.5 million each year if voters choose in November to exempt tampons and sanitary pads from the sales tax.

Question 3:

A measure that would mandate a competitive retail electric market in Nevada fell far short after an extremely expensive campaign and a victory two years ago.

Just two years after approving it on a 72 to 28 percent split, more than 67 percent of voters rejected Question 3, the Energy Choice Initiative. Their decision was largely driven by a barrage of ads that said it would raise electric rates, create instability and present a major risk. Counting both sides, about $100 million was spent in the fight over the proposed constitutional amendment, making it the most expensive ballot measure.

If approved, the proposed constitutional amendment would have required Nevada lawmakers to create and adopt an open electric market by 2023, leaving the current regulated monopoly model in the dustbin of history.

Proponents included the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Switch, which have chafed at the exit fees they were told to pay NV Energy to compensate for the impact of leaving the company and buying electricity elsewhere. The main opponent of Question 3 was NV Energy, the utility that serves most customers in the state.

Question 4:

Voters again gave their blessing to Question 4, which would exempt durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs and oxygen tanks from the sales tax.

The measure is set to be added to the Nevada Constitution after this year’s victory; it already won nearly three-quarters of the vote on its first time on the ballot in 2016. There was little formal opposition to the question, although the argument against it is that it would reduce overall tax revenue to the state.

Proponents say Nevada already exempts many medical products such as prosthetics and orthotics from the sales tax, and the state should expand the exemption to things like oxygen tanks and crutches.

The PAC backing the ballot question is The Alliance to Stop Taxes on the Sick and Dying, which is funded by medical device providers. Fiscal analysts did not provide an exact estimate on how much tax revenue the state would forego as a result of the exemption.

Question 5:

Voters also approved Question 5, a measure that seeks to implement “automatic” voter registration, with a little more than 59 percent of the vote.

As part of the initiative, people would be registered to vote or have their voter information updated when applying for a new driver’s license or ID card, unless they opted out. It takes effect immediately.

Proponents such as the organization iVote and the ACLU say it would help increase voter registration. Opponents say that the system works as-is. Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the measure in 2016, saying it would take agency away from voters.

Question 6:

More than 59 percent of voters backed Question 6, which seeks to boost the state’s use of renewable energy.

The initiative requires Nevada to gradually raise its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 50 percent by 2030. This would double the state’s current mandate of 25 percent by 2025. It needs to be approved again in 2020 to be added to the state’s constitution.

An RPS requires electric utilities ensure a specified percentage of electricity they sell comes from renewable energy.

NV Energy, the state’s primary electric utility, said in April that it had a 24 percent clean energy portfolio for 2017, ahead of the 20 percent RPS minimum.

Because the ballot measure is a proposed constitutional amendment, it needs to pass in 2018 and 2020 to actually take effect.

Proponents such as Nextgen Climate Action and Democratic candidate for governor Steve Sisolak say it would provide more clean energy for the state. An opposition group, the Coalition of Energy Users, says the measure would raise the price of electricity, though it didn’t report any spending against the initiative.

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