weather icon Clear

New Nevada law gives some voters no choice in 4 races

CARSON CITY — A bill that started out in the 2015 Legislature as a proposal to open Nevada’s primary elections to all voters came out of the lawmaking grinder doing nothing of the sort.

Instead, tens of thousands of voters in four Nevada legislative races won’t have any say at all in deciding who they want to represent them in Carson City. The outcome will be a done deal after the partisan June primary.

Senate Bill 499 changed decades-old election law governing how contests in Nevada are decided when the only candidates are all Democrats or all Republicans.

Previously, if there were only two contenders from the same party, candidates would bypass the primary — where voters have to be registered with that party to participate — and advance to the November general election when all voters regardless of affiliation cast a ballot. If there were three or more, the top two finishers in the primary advanced to the general.

Under the new law, if a race draws candidates from only one party, the person who gets the most votes in the closed primary advances to the general election ballot as the de facto winner.


A Democratic Senate race and two GOP Assembly races in Clark County are affected by the change, as is an open Republican Assembly seat in Washoe County.

According to the latest registration figures from the secretary of state’s office, more than 80,000 voters will be left out.

Statewide, about 234,000 Nevada voters, almost 20 percent, are registered as nonpartisan and ineligible to vote in primaries.

Early voting for the June 14 primary begins May 28. The last day to register or change party affiliation is May 24.

SB499 passed unanimously in the Senate, 27-15 in the Assembly, and was signed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Critics argue the law disenfranchises voters and gives more power to the two-party political machine by denying a broader electorate the option to choose between what some voters might view as a lesser of two evils in the general election.

They also say it benefits the parties because they can target spending toward more competitive races when a candidate doesn’t face a general election contest.

“So, once again, we have the two political parties, which have no constitutional authority to control anything, let alone the election process, deciding who we get to vote for and how we will do it,” said Sondra Cosgrove, president of the League of Women Voters of Las Vegas Valley.

“There is no advantage to voters in SB499. It solely benefits the two political parties.”

The original bill

In its initial form, SB499 would have created a modified blanket primary system whereby names of all candidates, partisan and nonpartisan alike, appeared on the ballot. The top two vote getters would advance to the general election, but could not be of the same political party.

When the bill was heard in the Senate Committee on Operations and Elections, state Sen. James Settelmeyer said the concept “is to allow everyone to vote in the primary.”

“It’s good to give people choices,” Settelmeyer, a Minden Republican who carried the bill through the session, said at the time.

Doug Goodman, who writes a blog on election trends, was the proponent of the bill and argued open primaries would soothe voter frustration over a two-party political system and increase participation.

“By placing all candidates regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof on the same primary election ballot and then having all voters … choose the two candidates to advance to the general election, the scope and depth of the issues will be broader,” Goodman said in written testimony.

But the concept was not favorably received.

“It went down in absolute catastrophic flames,” Settelmeyer told the Review-Journal.

The final version stripped out the open primary idea and added one sentence upending the state’s long-established primary process.

It also extended the deadline for minor party and independent candidates to submit petitions for ballot qualification, an issue Settelmeyer said needed to be addressed to avoid lawsuits.

He said that change, which extends the petition deadline beyond Nevada’s June primary date, necessitated altering the primary process because the final slate of candidates for the general election won’t be known until any potential third-party candidate is certified for the ballot.

Settelmeyer said the law gives more ballot access to minor party candidates and in the end provides more choices for voters.

“All the parties supported the change,” he said. “It gave more ballot access to minor party candidates.”

Criticism and support

Goodman is disappointed with the outcome.

“I don’t think that was a good idea at all,” he said. “You’re basically saying, ‘We’re OK having a very small portion of one political party choosing who is going to represent a whole district in the Legislature.’

“A good portion of the electorate gets cut out of the process. That was not a problem that needed fixing.”

Settelmeyer sees it differently.

“I do not personally see a benefit of having two Republicans or two Democrats in a general election, because it’s not much of a choice,” he said, comparing such options as a toss-up between a Bud and Bud Light.

“A party primary by definition is supposed to send one person from the party forward,” Settelmeyer said.

State Sen. Kelvin Atkinson’s re-election bid is one that will be decided in June. He faces a newcomer, Stephen Munford, in the predominantly Democratic district.

“It is incumbent upon the other party or nonpartisans to field the candidate they want in these races so they can vote for them,” said Atkinson, D-Las Vegas.

“We all try to find candidates for these races,” he said, emphasizing that a Republican, minor party or an independent candidate could have filed for his seat and didn’t.

He also said voters who want a say in a particular race could switch their party registration if they feel that strongly.

“They do have a voice and they’ll always have a voice, and they certainly can do that if they have someone they want to vote for or vote against,” Atkinson said.

Settelmeyer agreed, especially if voters live in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican. But in three Assembly districts affected this year, the number of “other” voters exceeds those eligible to vote in the primary.

State Sen. Patricia Farley, a Las Vegas Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections, said she would be open to changes in 2017.

“You want to get everybody’s voice in the process,” she said.

“I would like to see it open up in the primary,” Farley said. “If I’m a registered independent and I like a Republican, I shouldn’t have to change my party affiliation.”

Settelmeyer, meanwhile, stands behind the modified open primary idea.

“I would still support and vote for the bill that I brought,” he said. “To me it’s about the concept of having bold choices in which way we wish to go forward.”

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Find @SandraChereb on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Nevada Rep. Horsford admits to having affair - VIDEO
Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford admitted to having an affair with Gabriela Linder, a former intern for Sen. Harry Reid. Linder detailed her account of the affair in a podcast she called, "Mistress for Congress." (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak says businesses will begin reopening under phase 1 - VIDEO
The first phase of reopening Nevada’s businesses will begin Saturday, May 9, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden denies Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation - VIDEO
The former senate aide claims Biden assaulted her in 1993 when he was a senator. Biden first denied the accusations via a public post on Medium. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
RJ interview with Sisolak on the reopening plan for Nevada - VIDEO
The Las Vegas Review-Journal interviewed Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak on the plan for reopening Nevada during the coronavirus pandemic. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak reacts to Goodman CNN interview- VIDEO
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman repeated her call to immediately reopen businesses during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, leading to a reaction from Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak praises Nevadans for staying at home, saving lives - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday it’s still too early to know when the state’s COVID-19 shutdown orders could be lifted or when businesses could start to reopen their doors. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump gives governors 3-phase approach to open US - VIDEO
President Donald Trump declared victory in America’s war against the “invisible enemy” as the president’s Coronavirus Task Force released “Opening up America Again” guidelines. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump names Jacky Rosen to task force on reopening economy - VIDEO
President Donald Trump named Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to be a member of his Opening Up America Again Congressional Group Thursday to advise him on coronavirus policy. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders endorses Joe Biden for president - VIDEO
On April 13, former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced his official endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders drops out of 2020 Democratic race for president - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont officially announced an end to his 2020 presidential bid on Wednesday. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Democratic National Convention postponed - VIDEO
The Democratic National Convention was set to take place over four days in the middle of July. Democratic officials have now confirmed the convention will take place the week of Aug. 17. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson allows immediate sale of alcohol with curbside pickup - VIDEO
The city of Henderson decided Thursday evening to allow alcohol to be sold by restaurants as part of their curbside pickup service during the COVID-19 crisis. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak signs order banning any gathering of 10 or more people - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday signed a new order banning any gathering of 10 or more people in Nevada in another step the state has taken to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Takeaways from the president's daily briefing on coronavirus - VIDEO
RJ Washington correspondent Debra Saunders talks about today's daily White House news conference regarding the coronavirus outbreak, Friday, March 20, 2020. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Judicial Department 5 Debate - Video
The Las Vegas Review-Journal hosts a debate between the 3 candidates running for Department 5 in Clark County District Court. Participating are Veronica M. Barisich, Terry A. Coffing and Blair Cowan Parker.
Trump cancels Las Vegas trip because of ‘coronavirus outbreak’ - VIDEO
President Donald Trump canceled planned travel to Las Vegas ‘out of an abundance of caution’ amid virus outbreak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump signs $8.3 billion coronavirus package - VIDEO
President Trump signed a bill providing $8.3 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreaK, Friday, March 6, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sen. Cortez Masto shows support for Judge Togliatti - VIDEO
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto shows her support for senior state District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti to be appointed to the federal bench in Nevada. (Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto)
Sen. Rosen supports Judge Togliatti - VIDEO
Sen. Jacky Rosen shows her support for Nevada Judge Jennifer Togliatti to be appointed to the federal bench. (Sen. Jacky Rosen)
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews resigns following series of controversies - VIDEO
The "Hardball" host announced his departure Monday night, March 2, 2020, effective immediately. The anchor recently came under fire for comparing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada caucasus to the Nazi conquest of France in 1940. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Candidates file for office in Clark County - VIDEO
Amy Klobuchar drops out of 2020 presidential race - VIDEO
On March 2, campaign officials announced Amy Klobuchar’s decision to suspend her presidential bid. The news comes on the eve of Super Tuesday and just one day after Pete Buttigieg also announced his decision to depart from the race. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Activist shouts warnings at Nevada Democratic chairman's home - VIDEO
A Southern California activist and supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders spent nearly an hour shouting warnings and condemnations of the Democratic Party through a megaphone at the home of Nevada Democratic Party Chairman William McCurdy II on the eve of last week’s presidential caucuses, prompting him to call the police. (Maria Estrada)
Virgin Orbit fails on 1st rocket launch attempt

The inaugural launch had appeared to be going well until moments after the rocket was dropped from beneath the left wing of the jumbo jet dubbed Cosmic Girl.

Biden leaves home to make 1st in-person appearance in 2 months

Since abruptly canceling a March 10 rally in Cleveland at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has waged much of his campaign from his home in Wilmington.

Without full capacity, Trump threatens to pull GOP meeting from NC

President Donald Trump threatened Monday to pull the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina if the state’s Democratic governor doesn’t immediately sign off on allowing a full-capacity gathering in August despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.