Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Another Big (Municipal) Election Reform Bill

Last week, there was plenty of angst over the low turnout in this year's Southern Nevada municipal elections (for Henderson, Las Vegas, Mesquite, and North Las Vegas). That's why we're now seeing renewed calls to move municipal elections to even numbered years (when they'd coincide with county, state, and federal level elections).

However, that's not all. There's another bill pending in the Nevada Legislature that promises to deliver another major change to municipal elections up north and down south if passed into law. Currently, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas essentially have district elections for City Council. However, Henderson City Council elections are citywide. When John Marz ran for a full term this year, he didn't just have to campaign in Ward 3 (where he lives, and where he's supposed to represent). Marz had to run citywide, which meant Anthem and MacDonald Ranch residents may have had at least as much say in the representation of Green Valley North and Whitney Ranch on the City Council as Green Valley North & Whitney Ranch residents.

And this isn't just happening in Henderson. Up north, Reno, Sparks, and Carson City have the same system. Even though they technically have wards (or Supervisorial Districts in Carson City), elections are all citywide. So again, there's the risk of one region and/or faction determining the fate of all city offices.

Am I the only one seeing something disturbing here? Apparently not, since Senator Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) introduced SB 457. And today, it advanced in committee.

The vote was 3-2, with the two Republicans on the committee, Sens. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, and Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, opposing it.

Currently, all voters in the cities of Reno and Sparks vote for every single member of the city council regardless of geographic ward. The bill would change the elections so voters only vote for the council member that represents their ward. (Reno would also be required to get rid of its at-large council member and create a sixth ward in 2016.)

Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, who sponsored the legislation, said that change is needed so the voters in just one or two wards are not determining the outcome of elections.

"Those more affluent wards are the ones that are really electing people," Spearman said Tuesday morning. The bill would also affect elections in Henderson and Carson City.

So now, the bill moves to the full Senate. We'll have to wait and see what happens on the Senate floor.

In the mean time, legislators should consider this. They have to run in their own districts, win support in their own districts, and earn the trust of constituents in their own districts. And City Council Members in Las Vegas & North Las Vegas essentially do the same. So why must it be so different in the other major Nevada cities?

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