Speaking of that Reno mayor’s race, Southern Nevadans might be wondering why the Washoe County municipality has offices on the ballot in an even-numbered year.
But to make such an observation, Clark County voters would have known that their cities stage elections in the spring of odd-numbered years. Because turnout in those elections barely cracks double digits every other year, voters probably have no idea that their cities have elections at all — or what they might gain if, like Washoe County, Southern Nevada cities consolidated their ballots with those that decide county, state and federal races.
The arguments from local city officials against election consolidation are weak. They say a lot of voters won’t make it to the bottom of a state ballot, where municipal races would reside. They also claim that city races can’t possibly compete with presidential, congressional, gubernatorial or other state races for voter attention, media coverage and campaign money.
But that hasn’t happened in Reno. In fact, mayoral candidates are practically tripping over themselves to enter the suddenly wide-open race. Voters have no trouble finding their way to the bottom of the ballot and making informed selections. They’re already engaged in the political process. Deciding a few more races is no burden at all.
In Southern Nevada, on the other hand, voters are completely burned out from scorched-earth campaigns when municipal candidates come trolling for votes in the spring of odd-numbered years. The public wants nothing to do with politics. Last year’s city elections proved as much, when Las Vegas had 10 percent turnout, North Las Vegas had 10.4 percent turnout and Henderson had 12.4 percent turnout, despite each city facing numerous critical fiscal issues.
The drawbacks of these low-turnout affairs go far beyond the hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted staging April primaries and June general elections. Because city voters are tuned out, well-meaning challengers can’t expect to raise the money necessary to build the name recognition required to defeat an incumbent. And those who win election can’t claim any policy mandates because they’re installed by a tiny minority. An election win with, say, 60 percent turnout would bring much more legitimacy to municipal governments.
Under state law, the valley’s city governments have the authority to move their elections forward to the fall of even-numbered years. City councils just have to schedule a vote. That they won’t shows they value their interests more than yours.