Stop coddling voters

There have been four changes in elections in the last few cycles that have undermined democracy in Nevada and created an unsustainable cycle of ignorant voters and legislators, and rich and connected candidates. The four changes were 1) term limits for some elected officials; 2) earlier primaries; 3) early voting, and 4) motor voter.

There are other problems. For example, non-partisan, independent voters—the electorate that decides most elections in Nevada—are excluded from the primaries. Many states have open primaries that allow all registered voters to vote, which would allow every party to get better candidates, but that’s a topic for another editorial in about 18 months.

Let’s examine this idea that coddling voters with the hope that more will vote has undermined democracy.

It works like this: In an effort to prevent individual officials from gaining too much power in their position (think Bill Raggio), minor party partisans pushed term limits. The real result was that experienced, popular (generally because of their effectiveness) politicians have been thrown out of office when they’re most needed. And now, with government staff cutbacks because of the broken economy, the institutional memory of the Nevada legislature rests with—wait for it—lobbyists. And there are no term limits for lobbyists.

Primaries in June, rather than August, increased the length of campaigns, making them twice as costly to run. Advertising is expensive, and elections are often won by the candidate with the better name recognition. Since all news outlets are doing less political reportage—except in the most talked-about races, which they ride into the ground—that means the candidate who spends the most money on advertising wins the election. To simplify: Often the candidate with the most money wins. Principled lower- and middle-class candidates have a difficult time raising a war chest comparable to their competitors.

Similar in effect is the two weeks of early voting. Candidates have to have their names on billboards, in television commercials, on the radio, at the time of voting in order to compete. It’s expensive and favors rich and anointed candidates. But not only that, early voting allows good, honest and sincere voters to go to the polls before all the information is out about any candidate. Less wealthy candidates, for example, can only afford to comment on their competitors’ records or past behavior during the final days of the election.

Voters and those who impartially inform them have only a limited amount of time, attention span and resources to devote to elections. Longer elections and polling time has not been shown to help average candidates or voters, but only favor the rich and oligarchic candidates.

The notion that making it easy for citizens to register and vote will increase turnout has not worked. Nevada’s turnout was far higher when its residents had to make an effort. Nor would it be a good thing if it had worked. There is no public interest involved in coaxing and begging our least interested, most apathetic citizens to go to the polls.

Nevada and Nevadans must roll back these “reforms” to return this state to the people.