|By Anna Scanlon
RepresentUs Campaign Advisor
July 28, 2022
The movement to give voters a real choice at the ballot box just secured another victory in Nevada. Last month, the state supreme court ruled that an initiative to implement open primaries and Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in the state could appear on the general election ballot this November.
And just last week, it became official. RepresentUs’s partner Nevada Voters First submitted over 270,000 signatures to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office – well above the 140,000 signatures needed.
Nationwide, the pro-democracy movement continues to rack up victories. Voters know the current election system doesn’t benefit them – it benefits the two major political parties, powerful big money interests and the political status quo. If Nevada voters approve RCV on the ballot this fall, they will be on the way to becoming the third state to ditch the partisan primary system completely and make their elections work for everyone.
The initiative will give Nevadans a choice at the ballot box
The Better Voting Nevada Initiative would make two key changes to statewide elections (not counting presidential contests): open primaries and Ranked Choice Voting general elections.
Open primaries bring more voters into the primary process. Many states including Nevada still hold closed primaries, where only registered members of a party can participate. If Nevada’s initiative passes, every candidate regardless of party would appear on one ballot, and every registered Nevadan would be eligible to vote, again regardless of party registration.
With 37% of voters in the state not registered with either major party, implementing open primaries would have a big immediate impact. If the initiative passes, those voters could now have their say on who should make the general election ballot. Open primaries help to make primaries more accessible, less polarized, and less expensive.
The initiative would also institute Ranked Choice Voting for general elections. As we’ve frequently discussed before, RCV is a much-needed update to our winner-take-all electoral system that ensures winning candidates secure a majority of votes and that voters have a real choice at the ballot box.
In RCV elections, voters rank up to five candidates in order of preference. If a candidate receives a majority of the first-preference votes, that candidate wins. But if no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated. The voters who chose that candidate as their first choice will have their second-choice votes counted instead. This process, sometimes called an instant runoff, continues until there is a majority winner.
Of course, Nevadans must still vote on the initiative. But as we’ve seen in other places, voters approve of these fixes and we are excited about the chance to improve democracy in the Silver State.
While pro-democracy reforms like open primaries and RCV are great for voters – not to mention popular – they threaten the status quo. That’s why you see opposition from Democratic and Republican partisans in states across the country.
Democratic leaders in Nevada, including the current governor and both senators, oppose the initiative. The state is notorious for having strong party machines – chief among them the famous Democratic “Reid Machine” (a legacy of the late Senator Harry Reid).
The machines are accustomed to being able to pick and choose their candidates in back room deals months or even years before elections, without pesky interference from voters. Naturally, a ballot measure that overhauls primaries is a direct threat to their control of the political process, and they worked hard during the primary to keep this measure off the ballot. Their efforts have thus far failed because the voters of Nevada have had enough of machine politics and the status quo.
But that doesn’t mean it’ll be smooth sailing in the general election. Democrats and some Republicans will likely continue to strongly oppose this measure, and we expect millions to be spent against us and in favor of the status quo.
A nationwide movement to improve our elections
The people’s movement for transparency and stronger democracy has seen a string of victories recently. In Hawaii, RepresentUs helped pass a law to implement Ranked Choice Voting for special federal elections and special elections of vacant county council seats – elections that often see a wide field of candidates but receive little attention. RCV will also return to Burlington, Vt. for city council elections after the state legislature authorized it. Nationwide, almost 10 million Americans now vote in jurisdictions that use RCV. And the momentum is only increasing.
Perhaps the most recent success story for RCV and nonpartisan primaries occurred last month in Alaska. The special election to fill the state’s lone congressional seat was the first in the country to use the top-four nonpartisan primary combined with RCV general election.
We envision a future where every voter is able to participate in an electoral system that gives them more choices and more say in who represents them. With every victory, we move closer to that reality.
Our focus right now is on making sure the Nevada initiative passes in November. If you want to join the fight to defend democracy, join the Common Wealth by starting a monthly gift today. When you do, 100% of your contribution each month will go directly toward helping us win in Nevada and across the country in November.
Additionally, sign up below to add your name to this movement!
Contributors: Nolan Bush, RepresentUs Writer; Anh-Linh Kearney, RepresentUs Research Analyst