Winning primaries with a minority of votes shows need for change, group says

Winning primaries with a minority of votes shows need for change, group says
Secretary of State candidate Jim Marchant, pictured here with a campaign prop. (Marchant campaign video screengrab)

by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current

A report released Thursday by the nonpartisan election organization FairVote, which has been a proponent for ranked choice voting, showed Nevada congressional and statewide candidates in five Republican primaries and one Democratic primary were decided by less than 50% of the votes — and in two of those races, one for a congressional district and the other for lieutenant governor, the winners were among the ten “least representative” primary victors nationwide.

In a statement, FairVote’s president Rob Richie said the primary results show the current election system fails voters and that “the winner is chosen by only a fraction of a fraction of the electorate.”

Richie argued that changing to ranked choice voting would rectify the program. 

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo won the Republican primary for governor with 38% of the vote, ranking 32nd among the nation’s statewide and congressional primary race winners with small percentages of the vote. Lombardo faced 15 candidates, including former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee and attorney Joey Gilbert.

After the election, Gilbert claimed, without evidence, there was massive voter fraud, refused to concede to Lombardo and requested a recount. 

The recount yielded little change. Clark County commissioners certified the results of the recount Thursday, which saw Gilbert’s vote total reduced by seven. 

Retired army colonel Mark Robertson, one of eight Republicans that ran for the 1st Congressional District, won his primary with 30% of the votes. According to the report, Robertson won with the 6th lowest winning voting percentage in the country, and the fourth lowest among the nation’s congressional primaries. Robertson faces incumbent Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in the general election.

Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony had the nation’s 8th smallest winning percentage of the vote. Anthony faced seven Republican candidates in the primary for Lieutenant Governor, and won with less than 31% of the vote. 

Also on the list is Secretary of State candidate Jim Marchant, who has garnered national attention for spreading false information about the 2020 election and alleged voter fraud. He won his Republican primary, which had seven candidates, with less than 38% of the vote. 

Republican Sam Peters, a retired U.S. Air Force Major who is running for the 4th Congressional District against Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, received less than 48% of the vote and is ranked 52 in the report. Peters faced three opponents

Democratic candidate Elizabeth Mercedes Krause, who is challenging Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei in the race for the 2nd Congressional district, received less than 49% of the vote and is ranked 55. Her primary race had seven candidates. 

“Ranked choice voting takes on this problem, by ensuring a candidate wins a majority of votes against their top opponent without a separate runoff,” Richie said. “Ranked choice voting dramatically improves voter representation, and makes for stronger candidates coming out of primaries. For all these reasons, ranked choice voting is the fastest-growing nonpartisan voting reform in the country.”

In November, Nevada voters will have a choice to decide whether the state should change to a ranked system.

Let Nevadans Vote, an alliance that includes two dozen organizations, has pushed back against the measure. Democratic officials, including Gov. Steve Sisolak, also oppose ranked choice voting. 

Under the proposed voting system, Nevada’s congressional and statewide offices, including state legislative primaries, would be open, rather than split into Democratic and Republican contests. 

Under the current system, only voters who are registered as a voter in a party can vote in the party’s primary. But under ranked choice voting, all registered voters, including those registered as nonpartisan or third party, could cast a ballot in the primary. 

Then, the top five finishers would move onto the general election.

Voters in the general would then rank candidates. 

If a candidate receives more than 50% of first-choice votes, they are declared the winner. If they don’t receive 50%, the candidate in last place is eliminated and their votes are redistributed to the candidates who were marked as second-choice candidates on those ballots.

The process continues until one candidate receives a majority.

The ballot measure would have to be approved by voters in 2022 and 2024 before being implemented in 2026. 

Emily Persaud-Zamora of Silver State Voices previously told Nevada Current that ranked-choice voting makes casting a ballot “more time consuming, more complicated and more confusing for voters.” 

Sondra Cosgrove, the executive director Vote Nevada, rejected the premise that ranked choice voting is confusing and said opponents are attempting to protect their political power.  

“Voters can rate five things,” she said. “It’s not any more confusing than the election changes we have made, and we have made a lot.”

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