Demand voting reforms now
Voters must start holding candidates’ feet to the fire when it comes to voting rights.
The 2013 Legislature delivered next to nothing in terms of modernizing voting procedures in Nevada, missing the opportunity to strengthen the most basic element of our democracy. The few bills passed by the Democratically controlled Legislature were unceremoniously vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, leaving the status quo intact and voting rights mired in the past.
Our Legislature doesn’t meet again in regular session until February 2015. But in an election year, voters can pressure candidates into revealing their positions on protecting and expanding voting rights and let them know that voters are informed and paying attention to these issues.
At the local level, we’re likely to see a lively race for mayor and several council seats in Reno. When candidates come knocking at your door, ask if they plan to bring the city into compliance with the Voting Rights Act and change the City Charter so voters can elect their representatives by ward. Tell them you want a council member who represents your neighborhood’s interests.
At candidate forums, you need to stand up and say enough already with the citywide election of individual council members. Reno and Sparks are among the last four cities in Nevada to violate the Voting Rights Act by insisting it’s somehow more democratic to elect candidates citywide in the general election. This power structure perpetuates the influence of the elite and diminishes the electoral power of neighborhoods. If a candidate won’t commit to changing the City Charter to enact ward voting, find another candidate to support. And make sure they know why you’re rejecting them.
At the state level, the governor, secretary of state, attorney general and legislative candidates should be pressed hard on a variety of voting rights issues, such as same-day voter registration, a reform that has increased voting by 10 to 12 percent in areas where it’s been implemented. And why can’t we have polling places where anyone can vote on Election Day like we do during early voting?
Most candidates think the average voter doesn’t care about these issues because they don’t come up very often in candidate forums or at the door. That’s why Sandoval felt comfortable vetoing AB 440 and AB 441, two bills that would have expanded voting opportunities last session. These reforms were seen as being more beneficial to Democrats by making it easier for minorities and youth to vote, groups that tend to prefer Democrats over Republicans.
Educate yourself. A good place to start is the Brennan Center for Justice, a national non-profit organization that has just released a report documenting changes in voting laws in 2013 along with a plan to improve our voting system in the future.
The four key reforms suggested by the Brennan Center focus on expanding voting access by modernizing voter registration, expanding early voting sites, improving polling place resource management, and simplifying ballots and voting machines.
Perhaps the most important reform is one that has been implemented in California but has never been taken seriously in Nevada—taking redistricting out of the hands of the partisan Legislature. Allowing legislators to draw their own districts every 10 years is the primary reason most districts are not competitive, leaving voters frustrated and feeling disenfranchised.
California voters passed the Voters First Act in 2008 giving the responsibility for redistricting to an independent commission, quickly leading to many more competitive seats at the congressional and state legislative levels.
While you can never take the politics of redistricting completely out of the equation, there’s no doubt an independent commission would shake up the system and force incumbents to pay more attention to their voters.
Who knows? Maybe they’d start complying with the Voting Rights Act.