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EDITORIAL: Low turnout highlights value of moving election calendar

Updated June 12, 2019 - 9:48 pm

Tuesday’s municipal balloting was historical — and not because of the dismal turnout. Instead, it will be the final time the city of Las Vegas and other local jurisdictions hold off-year elections.

The results this week were predictable, with well-financed candidates winning the three open seats on the Las Vegas City Council. In Ward 2, Victoria Seaman, a former GOP assemblywoman, captured 39 percent of the vote to outpace seven other hopefuls seeking to replace Steve Seroka, who resigned unexpectedly in early March. In Ward 3, Olivia Diaz, a former Democratic assemblywoman, edged Melissa Clary by 74 votes to earn the seat held by retiring incumbent Bob Coffin. Finally, Brian Knudsen, a consultant to nonprofits, took 53 percent of the vote to win the Ward 1 post vacated by the term-limited Lois Tarkanian.

The prominent characteristic of Tuesday’s voting was a lack of interest. Turnout was just more than 10 percent of eligible voters. Fewer than 2,700 residents participated in Ward 3 and barely 4,100 Las Vegans cast ballots in Ward 1. The apathy was less pronounced in Ward 2 — perhaps due to a crowded field resulting in more campaign activity — yet only 7,540 people bothered to vote.

Residents of North Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City didn’t do much better.

These sorry numbers are in keeping with the recent trend involving municipal turnout. Yet Las Vegas officials and those in other entities have been reluctant to juice participation by shifting their election calendars to even-numbered years and piggy backing on state and national balloting. Local candidates claim they don’t want to get lost at the bottom of a deeper ballot. In fact, they’re more likely worried the switch might intensify competition for the almighty campaign dollar.

At any rate, the recently adjourned 2019 Legislature took matters into its own hands, overwhelmingly passing Assembly Bill 50. It moves all Nevada municipal elections to even-numbered years beginning in 2022, ending odd-year balloting in a number of locales, including Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas. (Boulder City is already transitioning).

The measure was long overdue. AB50 will not only increase civic participation, it will save taxpayer money by consolidating stand-alone municipal elections with regular even-year campaigns. By boosting turnout, the measure may even prove an efficient mechanism for ensuring quality candidates rise to the top. In a low-turnout race, after all, the result can be a crapshoot.

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed AB50 late Wednesday. After Tuesday’s poor turnout, there were few excuses for maintaining the status quo. He did the right thing.

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