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Las Vegas mayor cruises to 3rd term; other candidates in runoffs

Updated April 3, 2019 - 12:03 am

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman cruised to an easy victory Tuesday, while a former congressman accused of sexual harassment was edged out of a race for Las Vegas’ Ward 3.

In North Las Vegas, Mayor John Lee’s attempt to oust a member of his City Council failed.

And a former Henderson city official won an open seat on the City Council, while two incumbents cruised to easy victories.

Meanwhile, total voter turnout for the primary was the second-worst in the last 20 years, with just 8.8 percent of all eligible voters casting ballots in early voting, by mail and on Election Day.

In Las Vegas Ward 3, former Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz and Veterans Affairs program manager Melissa Clary are headed to a runoff, with 33 percent and 28 percent of the vote, respectively. Former Congressman Ruben Kihuen, who didn’t seek re-election after being accused of sexual harassment by three women, barely missed the runoff, running just five votes behind Clary.

In North Las Vegas, a candidate backed by Lee, George Warner, came in third with 15 percent of the vote, as incumbent Councilman Richard Cherchio, with 46 percent, and Pete Shields, with 21 percent, were headed to a runoff.

And in Henderson, Michelle Romero won outright in Ward 1 with 60 percent of the vote, while two incumbents, Dan Stewart and Dan Shaw, won their races overwhelmingly.

The final voter turnout of 8.8 percent was more than the low-turnout record of 7.65 percent set in 2005’s municipal primary. The high-water mark in local election primary voting came in 2003, when 18.34 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

Depending on the city, a number of factors can affect turnout. If there is no citywide candidate — such as a mayor or a judge — elections could be confined to individual wards. In cities such as Las Vegas, only residents of a ward may vote for a council member. In Henderson, by contrast, all council members run at large, which means everybody in the city can vote in all council races.

A local ballot initiative also may drive up turnout; Boulder City has had a number of those over the years, and all city residents are eligible to vote in those contests.

And residents of unincorporated Clark County can’t vote in city elections because they live outside municipal boundaries. That leaves a sizable chunk of the population off the list of potential voters before the elections even start.

But the fact remains, municipal elections in the off-years will never attract the attention that even-year contests do, with high profile candidates such as president, senator or governor at the top of the ticket.

The low turnout has reignited the biennial debate over whether municipal elections should be switched to coincide with even-year elections.

Currently, only Boulder City, Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Caliente and Yerington hold odd-year elections.

Assembly Bill 50 — introduced by the Legislative Operations and Elections Committee on behalf of the secretary of state’s office — would move those elections to the even-year cycle, starting in 2022. Council members elected in 2017 and 2019 would get to serve an extra year under the bill.

According to figures submitted to the Legislature by Clark County in support of AB 50, Mesquite’s general-election voter turnout jumped from 31 percent in 2013 — the final year the city held an odd-year election — to 83 percent in 2016, the first year the city’s election was coordinated with major races.

AB 50 had a hearing Feb. 28, but must be voted out of the committee by an April 12 deadline or it will be considered dead for the 2019 session.

Cost is also a factor. The 2017 municipal primary elections cost the participating cities at total of $750,000, according to Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin. He said exact figures for the 2019 election weren’t available on Tuesday but that the cost would be comparable to the elections two years ago.

If that number holds, it works out to $15.22 for each of the 49,270 votes cast in the municipal primary.

Those who argue against switching city elections to even years say candidates would get lost on long ballots that can include presidential candidates, Congress, statewide office, state Senate, state Assembly, county commission, school board, ballot initiatives, special districts and judicial candidates.

Moreover, candidates for city offices fear they would have a hard time getting through to voters when TV ad time is swamped by major candidates and outside groups, and potential political donors are being hit up for money by all the other candidates on the ballot.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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