A Not-Very-Modest Proposal to Fix Nevada Election Problems

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

 

(Editors note: the piece has been reformatted for better accessibility-6/2/2016)

 

If We Change Nevada Election Laws, What Should They Be?

Good news! The answer isn’t all that complicated, and we don’t have to start from scratch.

We clearly (given that Nevada has been a state for 150 years and still cannot host an election) don’t have (or desire to spend) the resources to adequately (some might contend “Constitutionally”) administer elections. This is important to acknowledge.

If learned anything from the state convention, it is that the people working for the Nevada Democratic Party cannot administer an unbiased primary.1)It wasn’t just the convention; I have talked with multiple voters that told me their Caucus wasn’t not administered properly. I caucused up in Anthem (with Sen. Reid in the building, though in a different precinct), and I personally witnessed at least three caucuses run improperly (as in, not according to the party’s rules. Worse, I saw caucuses run by the same precinct chair, administered differently [I guess if you wanted to be in a caucus that followed party rules, it was luck of the draw] in the same gymnasium). If the party doesn’t administer the caucus correctly with the Godfather in the building, I have no reason to think any Caucus meeting was completed in the proper order. If the people working for the NV Dems are so passionate about Hillary Clinton (nothing wrong with that) that they could not administer a caucus fairly, they should have asked someone else to do it. Updating the rules, on the fly, the meet the needs of their preferred candidate, is just not good enough. Our friends in the Nevada GOP have their own legitimacy issues. Do a little reading about the 2012 race; the google can help.

For the reasons discussed above, legitimate ruling authority is more important than any other single issue the legislature will address next session. If the people in office were not put there by legitimate means, no subsequent action taken by these officials will be seen as legitimate.2)Keep going down the logic tree, or read about the ongoing coup in Brazil if you want a real world exampleThis speaks to the very essence of our society.

If we were going to a Rawslian3)I just mean starting from a “state of nature,” as in the famous thought experiment where you would design a system of justice from scratch, perhaps with equal outcomes. experiment here, perhaps I would propose something far more radical4)Imagine if our elections were community meetings of say a couple dozen people that had a fruitful discussion before each individual declared her preference. Or if the complex issues of the day got the debate they deserve. Or if the elected officials entrusted to make tough decisions aren’t permitted to leave the room before action has been taken, etc..

But we don’t need to “revolutionize” the Nevada election process. Our 9th Circuit neighbors to the north have done most of the legwork for us. Up in Oregon, they have enacted (and tested) vote-by-mail laws. 30 years later, the results from their experiment are extraordinary! (wait until you see their voter participation numbers). Let me quote the Oregon Secretary of State to explain the process:

 

Registered voters receive a ballot two to three weeks before an election, giving time to research issues or candidates.

Voters also receive an official ballot to complete and insert into the security envelope which is placed in the ballot return envelope and signed by the voter. The ballot return envelope can be stamped and mailed or dropped off at any official drop box across the state. If a voter casts their ballot after the Wednesday before an election, the ballot should be left at a drop box site to ensure it’s counted.

Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

 

Better than that? The same process applies for the primary! Problem solved!

Just in case the benefits don’t jump off your mobile device at you, allow me to list the first ten I could think of:

  1. No More Long lines: In a state where folks work around the clock, having folks stand in line for hours to vote is terrible for our economy. Just think of all the waste from the February caucus.
  2. No More Voter Intimidation: There have been complaints5)I’m not speaking to their veracity that certain voters, from both parties, feel intimidated.6)I recall seeing pictures on State Sen. Aaron Ford’s account of voter intimidation that will infuriate any good Nevadan. Being able to express your voter preference is a fundamental tenant of American life and should be protected. This is the best means to do so.
  3. Improved Fairness for Our Senior Citizens: The first concerns listed above are particularly acute for our area seniors. Allowing folks to vote from home at their own convenience is an idea I believe most of our senior citizens would support.
  4. Improved Fairness for Casino Workers: If you haven’t worked in the casino industry, the shifts constantly are in flux (until you have tenure) and it is difficult to plan for anything too far in the future. Under the caucus system, people only have a 2 hour window to express their preference. Saturday is a busy day in the casino industry, and most of the Valley’s casino shifts include working on Saturday. Casino workers are the true foundation of our economy here, and we should be doing everything possible to make it easy for them to vote. I’m sure the Casino owners do not want to continue to pay their workers during the caucus either. Let casino workers vote when they can.
  5. Potential for a Significant Voter Turnout: In 2012, 2/3rd’s of the country didn’t vote. This is a huge problem for a number of reasons. 10% of registered democrats in the state voted in this year’s caucus. This is a civic failure of which we could blame any number of institutions, but now is not the time for distractions. The more cynical folks in the media like to use these stats to make unfavorable conclusions about Americans generally. Me? I think most Americans are willing to participate, they just don’t have 6 hours to dedicate to the process with families, work and other obligations. Don’t believe me? With a vote-by-mail option, More than 70% of Oregon residents voted in the 2014 midterm.
  6. More Honest Political Parties: Closed primaries don’t make sense in Nevada where as much as 1/3 of the voters do not want to be apart of either major political party. An open, vote-by-mail primary allows every citizen to have an equal voice in the process. Once the major parties have competition, they will be forced (as much as they can be) to meet the will of the voters. My conservative readers have to be in favor of more competition..
  7. People Will Feel Invested in Their Community: When 2/3rds of the country didn’t vote, these folks can just turn around and blame the other 1/3 without having to take any responsibility. We want our citizens to have skin in the game, to care about the results. I suspect that there are many people with the civic spirit in Nevada that want to participate and be a part of the process, but they are disincentivized by the impropriety of the process (even just the look of it). A more engaged citizenry will lead to a better Nevada, no question about it.7)There will be growing pains, but that’s ok!
  8. Fairness for Non-Partisan Voters: Did you know the fastest growing voter demographic in Nevada is non-partisan voter? Shouldn’t folks with independent streaks/non uniform political opinions be allowed to participate in the primary? Wouldn’t the result likely be a candidate that more of the country actually likes?8)Note, Nevada currently uses a closed primary system to exclude non-partisans from the process. This can be easily fixed.
  9. Lower Cost: Think about the cost of running an election for a moment: supplies, personnel, rent for polling locations, plus the opportunity cost of having public officials not completing their regular business. Then add on early voting! Know also that the ballot drop boxes around the state (under Oregon law) don’t need to be supervised (like a mail box). Also, in terms of added cost, we already send out a voter guide! Why not just include the ballot as well?
  10. A Better Government: Our government, like the rest of life, is a product of what we put in. A more engaged/inspired voting public will produce a more engaged/inspired government. When in life have you received something worthwhile that didn’t take serious effort to produce? It’s time to stop pretending our government is any different.

 

In case any of the members of our fine Nevada Assembly come across this discussion, I have included the Oregon statutes below for your perusal. Additionally, I included Oregon voting statistics, which alone should be enough to get you to consider this idea.

I would be the first to concede that my proposal is, by no means, modest. But for the listed reasons above, I ask the citizens of Nevada to take it under serious consideration.

We do not have to pick insanity. Our democracy is a beautiful thing. It’s time to reinvest.

 

How We Got Here

By now, you’ve heard at least a little bit about what happened at the Nevada Democratic Party State Convention from the Paris Hotel. Frankly, I’d be impressed if you haven’t.

If you missed all the fun, this Maddow segment sums up the Nevada election fun.

 

The look on Ralston’s face is priceless.9)How’s that #fallofTrump hashtag going by the way?

Here’s a litany of “thinkpieces”10)How long does someone need to think about something before a “reaction” becomes a “thinkpeice”? from the Convention, if it’s a recap you are after: NY Times CNN  Commentary Medium Salon Statement from Lucy Flores

I am less interested in what occurred last weekend, but much more concerned about what we should do going forward. As I wish more people were.

But how much does what happened last weekend matter? If the Nevada Democratic Party followed their own convention rules, Hillary would have won 13-12. With the new, updated11)to account for Bernie’s supporters winning too many delegates at the county conventionsconvention rules, Hillary won 15-10.

That’s right, all of this is about two delegates. Yes, every delegate counts. And Hillary is currently 274 delegates ahead of Bernie. For those of you not math inclined, we are talking about less than 1% of the total delegates. Unless Bernie wins at least 70% of the California vote, Hillary is going to win the primary.

As we keep calling each other names, please keep that in mind.

One last point regarding the Convention..

 

I, for one, would appreciate it if the national media stops reporting false facts to make Nevadans look bad. As far as I can tell, no Nevadan threw anything at anyone.

As for the disgusting harassment of Roberta Lange, no one has proven anyone from Nevada had anything to do with that either. Over on Jezebel, Anna Merlan wrote a great piece where she called up a few of these harassers and asked them to explain themselves. It’s worth reading in full. Of the three harassers she spoke to, none was from here.12)For all I know, these jerks all work for David Brock..I kid David, I’m sure he doesn’t do stuff like this anymore..

 

Now That We Got That Silliness Out of the Way, Onto Important Business

That is, that our primary (at the very least) has the appearance of impropriety. And that is a huge problem.

Yet, it is important to acknowledge that administration of a legitimate election is not a Nevada-specific issue. In fact, this is a problem in many13)but not all…stay tuned states in the union.

But how bad are things across the country?

http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a43311/war-on-voting/

Well, Charles Pierce had to write about it without cursing, so yes, pretty serious. In that piece, he aggregates voting issues in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Alaska. Anyone else see a common theme across jurisdictions making it more difficult to vote?14)George W. Bush’s politics/results showed that conservative values can easily win on the merits; there’s absolutely no need/value for these laws.

We could continue to complain on social media, write terse letters to the editor, and create (less than mature) vines to express our displeasure, or we could Make a Change.

 

Why This Matters

In my humble opinion, this matters as much as anything we’ve written about on the Clear Counsel Legal Blog. We are talking about the fundamentals of our democracy here, the essence of our social contract. Allow me a moment to take a step back so we can get a little perspective.

When the uproar in Tunisia began in the end of 2010, I speculated15)#humblebrag…you’ll just have to believe me. Also, there were many a folk that said the same thing that it was very possible for the unrest to spread to the other neighboring countries. Why?16)I apologize for the Darling-esq rhetorical question

The conditions that acted as a catalyst in Tunisia were present across the Middle East17)Not the murder of the fruit vendor, but that the government was not chosen by the people but imposed on the people, and not the surprisingly, the unrest spread beyond Tunisia’s borders18)I’m going to put a pin in the discussion of the Arab Spring for now. Yes, I am aware of that there are many, many variables at play, and I am not omniscient. If you want more information about the Arab Spring, the Google can help.

That condition I speak of? The lack of legitimate authority over the citizens by the autocratic governments in question. This is incredibly important.

Beginning with the American Constitution of the 18th Century, peoples of the Western World declared that we (collectively) have the right to live by self-determination through self-governance. Europeans/fellow Americans followed suit over the next 200 years to the extent that now most Western societies consider governments that were not popularly elected as illegitimate19)I am fully aware of the happens of Brazil…We should let that play out before drawing conclusions. Certainly, it’s concerning.

The brilliance of our American experiment is that we,

1. Established a repeatable means to determine whom should lead us, and

2. Instituted an invaluable20)literally, try to put a price on this method for the peaceful transition of power.

Let’s reflect why this is important. Before 1776, Every person in the world was born into a society in which s/he had no voice/power to make a change. Political transitions before the Great American Compromise were, in essence, a storming (then subsequent re-storming) of the Bastille. The peasants of this era (and before) had no means to express their displeasure, except a good storming.

Imagine, if instead of having an election every 4 years, there was a violent conflict for power? Sounds awful, right? There’s real value in our political development over the past 200 years.

Good. We start here.21)Unfortunately, this is where most of the analysis I have seen stops. We seem to have hundreds of people ready/able/willing to disseminate an opinion, less that want to try to address the issues in question.

In reference to the Einstein quote to open the piece, if we don’t make serious changes to the Nevada election laws, there is no reason to think all of this chaos won’t happen again in 2018, 2020, 20204..

It doesn’t have to be that way!

 

Thanks for reading.

http://sos.oregon.gov/elections/Documents/246.pdf

 

 

http://sos.oregon.gov/elections/Documents/251.pdf

http://sos.oregon.gov/elections/Documents/Voter-Turnout-History-Primary.pdf

http://sos.oregon.gov/elections/Documents/Voter_Turnout_History_General_Election.pdf

 

 

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. It wasn’t just the convention; I have talked with multiple voters that told me their Caucus wasn’t not administered properly. I caucused up in Anthem (with Sen. Reid in the building, though in a different precinct), and I personally witnessed at least three caucuses run improperly (as in, not according to the party’s rules. Worse, I saw caucuses run by the same precinct chair, administered differently [I guess if you wanted to be in a caucus that followed party rules, it was luck of the draw] in the same gymnasium). If the party doesn’t administer the caucus correctly with the Godfather in the building, I have no reason to think any Caucus meeting was completed in the proper order. If the people working for the NV Dems are so passionate about Hillary Clinton (nothing wrong with that) that they could not administer a caucus fairly, they should have asked someone else to do it. Updating the rules, on the fly, the meet the needs of their preferred candidate, is just not good enough. Our friends in the Nevada GOP have their own legitimacy issues. Do a little reading about the 2012 race; the google can help.
2. Keep going down the logic tree, or read about the ongoing coup in Brazil if you want a real world example
3. I just mean starting from a “state of nature,” as in the famous thought experiment where you would design a system of justice from scratch, perhaps with equal outcomes.
4. Imagine if our elections were community meetings of say a couple dozen people that had a fruitful discussion before each individual declared her preference. Or if the complex issues of the day got the debate they deserve. Or if the elected officials entrusted to make tough decisions aren’t permitted to leave the room before action has been taken, etc.
5. I’m not speaking to their veracity
6. I recall seeing pictures on State Sen. Aaron Ford’s account of voter intimidation that will infuriate any good Nevadan
7. There will be growing pains, but that’s ok!
8. Note, Nevada currently uses a closed primary system to exclude non-partisans from the process. This can be easily fixed.
9. How’s that #fallofTrump hashtag going by the way?
10. How long does someone need to think about something before a “reaction” becomes a “thinkpeice”?
11. to account for Bernie’s supporters winning too many delegates at the county conventions
12. For all I know, these jerks all work for David Brock..I kid David, I’m sure he doesn’t do stuff like this anymore..
13. but not all…stay tuned
14. George W. Bush’s politics/results showed that conservative values can easily win on the merits; there’s absolutely no need/value for these laws.
15. #humblebrag…you’ll just have to believe me. Also, there were many a folk that said the same thing
16. I apologize for the Darling-esq rhetorical question
17. Not the murder of the fruit vendor, but that the government was not chosen by the people but imposed on the people
18. I’m going to put a pin in the discussion of the Arab Spring for now. Yes, I am aware of that there are many, many variables at play, and I am not omniscient. If you want more information about the Arab Spring, the Google can help
19. I am fully aware of the happens of Brazil…We should let that play out before drawing conclusions. Certainly, it’s concerning.
20. literally, try to put a price on this
21. Unfortunately, this is where most of the analysis I have seen stops. We seem to have hundreds of people ready/able/willing to disseminate an opinion, less that want to try to address the issues in question
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