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EDITORIAL: Empty polling places mark Tuesday’s municipal balloting

They held an election and nobody came — well, almost nobody.

Residents of Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas stayed away in droves on Tuesday rather than participate in the municipal primary. Just 8.8 percent of all eligible voters opted to cast ballots, the lowest turnout in 14 years.

In Las Vegas, the Goodman dynasty will continue, to nobody’s surprise. Incumbent Mayor Carolyn Goodman swamped her six challengers with more than 83 percent support, avoiding the June general election. City Councilman Cedric Crear, who represents Ward 5, also prevailed in the primary by earning 60 percent of the vote, a majority of the ballots cast.

In Ward 3, former Democratic Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz led the field with 33 percent. She will face the primary runner-up, Melissa Clary, in the general election. Ms. Clary advanced by edging third-place finisher Ruben Kihuen by a mere five votes. Mr. Kihuen opted not to defend his U.S. House seat last year amid sexual harassment allegations. Meanwhile, Brian Knudsen and Robin Munier will square off in June for the right to represent Ward 1.

But the biggest takeaway was the dismal voter interest, the widespread apathy that regularly characterizes these municipal contests. Politicians constantly preach the gospel of civic participation and have often gone to ridiculous lengths to make it easier to cast a ballot. Yet most politicians are concerned with only one thing: incumbent protection. If they think election reform will keep them safely ensconced, they’re all for it. If not, the status quo is fine, thank you.

The powers that be in Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas personify the latter. Otherwise, they would have long ago moved to piggyback their municipal elections on the back of statewide and national contests held in even-numbered years. Instead, they argue that such a switch would make it harder for them to reach voters amid the clamor of more high-profile contests. Translation: Fundraising would be more challenging, so forget about it. Our convenience outweighs turnout concerns.

In fact, running these local campaigns alongside state and national races would create more interest, not less. The evidence proving this is right up the road in Mesquite. After town officials embraced the change a few years back, turnout jumped from 31 percent to 83 percent. Such reform might also help increase the pool of qualified candidates and would save taxpayer money by negating the need for funding these stand-alone elections.

Assembly Bill 50 would move municipal elections to the even-year cycle beginning in 2022. It makes eminent sense — as Tuesday’s pitiful participation rate makes obvious.

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