Reform the reform

If you live in Sparks north of Interstate 80 and east of Pyramid Way or live in the south end of the Spanish Springs Valley or live in Wadsworth, don’t worry about voting for county commissioner this year. It’s already been taken care of for you. Your representative on the Washoe County Commission will be Vaughn Hartung. We know that you probably didn’t get to vote for (or against) him, but that’s OK. Most of the people in the district—Washoe County Commission district 4—won’t get to vote on that contest, so you’re not alone.

The Nevada Legislature has decided that if only members of one political party run for an office, that party will decide in its primary who your county commissioner will be.

You’re not a member of that party?

Tough. Nowhere is it carved in stone that you get to elect your representatives.

Perhaps you live in Assembly District 26. It encompasses much of the north end of Lake Tahoe, then sweeps down the Sierra to take in a small part of Washoe City, dashes north across the burgeoning Mount Rose Highway area, then crosses the valley to sweep up Hidden Valley. With Incline and Hidden Valley pushing the average income level sky high, it’s a silk stocking district where no Democratic candidate can survive. It has a new assemblymember, Lisa Krasner, even though no election has yet been held, only a primary—meaning any non-Republican is barred from choosing the district’s legislator.

A primary that elects is a contradiction in terms. The primary’s function is to narrow the available candidates. Using it to elect is the latest form of voter suppression—this one with the bipartisan support.

The primary election was invented to reform the nominating process in the Progressive Era, to take the selection of candidates out of convention back rooms and corporate offices. In fact, in 1910, supporters of the convention process filed a lawsuit in Nevada to overturn the primary law. It was unsuccessful.

Not surprisingly, the political parties have now found a way to abuse this reform, by turning Nevada elections into Soviet elections where only one party can participate.

It began in 1997 with a new law designed to accommodate one small county legislator who was tired of, you know, having to run for office against a fellow Republican. His colleagues in the Senate rigged the system so he could win in the primary instead of the general, cutting his angst in half. Eventually the Democrats found ways it could work for them, too, so they supported a recent measure honing the law. Remember that the Democrats are the party that opposes voter suppression.

So these rigged primaries serve the purposes of the parties. What other purpose do they serve? Keep in mind that there’s also nothing carved in stone that says we have to have partisan primaries at all. If they stop serving the public’s needs, why not just get get rid of them? Reform the reform. Change the law to go straight to a non-partisan primary, all comers in one primary, party identifications removed from the ballot. Then we don’t have to put up with these shenanigans, and voters can stop having to register with a political party in order to get a full ballot.

If some political reformers are looking for a cause, this could be it.