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Nevada ballot question raises more money than any candidate in 2022 election

Updated October 20, 2022 - 12:12 pm

The political action committee behind the ranked-choice voting and open primary ballot initiative received $17 million of donations in the last fundraising quarter — the majority of which came from out-of-state political action committees.

The Nevada Voters First PAC has spearheaded the Question 3 initiative that would implement a voting system where all voters could participate in the primary — regardless of party — with the top five candidates moving on to the general election, no matter their political affiliation. If passed in both the November 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election, the initiative would also have voters list their choices of candidates in order of preference.

Both political parties have expressed their opposition to the initiative, while the organization heading the initiative has said it would give more power to the voters and force campaigns to appeal to the majority of the voters rather than a more radical base of the party.

Nevada voters have likely seen advertisements of a veteran urging Nevadans to vote for the initiative so that he, too, can participate in the primary elections. With a whopping $17 million funding the campaign initiative, voters can expect to see even more information about the initiative coming out in the next three weeks.

No candidate running for election raised that much in the third quarter of 2022, although Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., came closest with $14 million raised.

PACs funding effort

The donations are coming from a few large out-of-state political action committees that support ranked choice voting and open primaries, including the Unite America PAC, made up of Democrats, Republicans and independents “working to put voters first,” as well as the Represent.Us PAC, which is an anti-corruption organization working to fix the political system, according to its website.

The Final Five Fund — the committee behind final-five voting, a similar process in which the top five candidates of a congressional election will move on from a primary to a ranked-choice voting general election — also contributed almost $9 million.

Individuals who contributed on behalf of those political action committees include Kathryn Murdoch, the daughter-in-law of businessman and media proprietor Rupert Murdoch, Kenneth Griffin, a hedge fund billionaire and chief executive officer of Citadel, and John and Laura Arnold, a billionaire couple from Texas.

The only Nevada donor was Wynn Resorts Limited Corp. Investments, which donated $250,000 to the initiative in September.

Dan Lee, an associate professor in the political science department at UNLV, said the way for election law to change is to go state by state, which explains why Nevada is seeing out-of-state donors advocating for Nevada’s initiative.

“That’s why they’re pumping money into Nevada,” Lee said.

Lee brought up some criticisms of the initiative that may have been overlooked, however, including the fact that the initiative is actually advocating for a nonpartisan primary, rather than an open primary. Open primaries are used in multiple states and allow voters to choose which party’s primary they’d like to participate in, whereas the ballot initiative is advocating for lumping everyone in one, “ginormous” race, Lee said.

Another criticism is that it could make campaigns more expensive, as they will have to basically run two general election campaigns, and the campaigns will get more money from super PACs and special interest groups, which will gain more power.

Sondra Cosgrove, a representative with Nevada Voters First, said she thinks the opposite will happen and the initiative will take money out of the equation.

“We’re spending $100 million with just a few people shouting at each other (in the current system). I don’t see how it will make it worse,” Cosgrove said.

Support for measure

The initiative has gained some support, with one poll from OH Predictive Insights and the Nevada Independent reporting that about 42 percent of Nevadans would support the initiative, with 32 percent neither supporting nor opposing it.

“The problem is that voters more and more feel frustrated, feel like they’re often left voting for the lesser of two evils, feel disenfranchised, and generally don’t feel motivated to vote,” said Mike Draper, communications director for Nevada Voters First.

“When you couple that with the fact that our voter registration numbers are just skyrocketing with nonpartisans and independents, people that can’t vote in the primary that don’t feel represented by the parties, or by the parties, I think we’ve got a significant problem in the state,” Draper said.

Critics of the measure say it will confuse voters and drag out counting of election results.

Around the country 55 jurisdictions, including cities, counties, municipalities and states, use ranked choice voting. Alaska conducted its last election using ranked choice voting, and 85 percent of voters said that it was simple and, after they used it, favored the process, Draper said.

Voting machines are already able to do ranked-choice voting, and registrars of voters have said they could handle it.

“It’s not rank choice voting that’s dragging out elections. It’s mail-in balloting,” Draper said.

Less than 20 percent of voters turn out in the primary, making decisions for 100 percent of Nevada voters, Draper said.

“It’s about giving Nevadans more choices and making sure Nevadans have more of a voice in the elective process,” Draper said.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill_reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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