And a costly campaign is underway to bring the system to Nevada, the eternal battleground. It’s the latest step in a growing push across the country to implement ranked ballots in cities and states – a change that could have a profound impact on the type of candidates voters send to town halls. , state governments and Washington, DC.
A ballot measure before Nevada voters this fall would impose a system similar to Alaska’s. All candidates would run in an open primary under the proposal, the top five candidates, regardless of party, would qualify for a ranked general election.
The ballot measurement campaign has become a battle between the powerful interests of state and country, with a major investment from former food industry CEO Katherine Gehl helping fuel the ‘yes’ campaign and the best elected Democrats from Nevada – as well as a major Democratic Senate National group – among those funding the “no” vote.
Opposition from powerful party interests also occurred in Alaska. Proponents say this is because the combination of open primaries and ranked choice voting threatens parties by incentivizing candidates to represent a broader base of voters, not just those in their party.
“We believe it is this combination that constitutes the most powerful and viable electoral reform in the country today,” said Nick Troiano, executive director of electoral reform group Unite America.
Currently, voters must be party-affiliated to participate in a Nevada primary, and about one-third of active voters in the state are registered as nonpartisan. The initiative is to be adopted in 2022 and 2024, after which it would be in place for the 2026 elections.
A recent poll by The Nevada Independent and OH Predictive Insights showed that 42% of registered voters supported the initiative, compared to 27% opposed and another third undecided.
“People aren’t targeting their corner of the electorate anymore,” said Joe Brezny, campaign manager for Nevada Voters First, the group supporting the initiative. “People are targeting the electorate, and that’s what’s going to make us all better.”
But the push has powerful critics. Protect Your Vote Nevada, the group opposing the measure, says it will lead to invalid ballots and argues that it undermines the “one person, one vote” concept.
Nevada Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak and Senator. Catherine Cortez Masto, both seeking re-election in November, oppose the initiative, and the Democratic State Assembly and state Senate caucuses donated against the initiative. The same goes for Majority Forward, the nonprofit political organization aligned with the Senate Majority Leader. chuck schumer.
“We should find ways to continue our progress, not push for hasty constitutional change that would make our system more confusing, error-prone and exclusionary,” Sisolak said in a statement. Sen. Jacky Rosen also opposes the “risky and experimental” proposal.
Alaska’s measure faced similar criticism before it was passed in 2020.
The Nevada initiative has raised more than $2.4 million, according to its last July filing. Part of that amount — $1 million — came from Gehl, founder of the nonprofit Institute for Policy Innovation and former president and CEO of Wisconsin-based manufacturing company Gehl Foods.
A half-million dollar contribution also came from the Chicago-based Final Five Fund Inc., headed by Gehl. Gehl said she couldn’t lead the initiative because she doesn’t live in Nevada – and stressed the importance of those who live there by leading the charge – but her initial investment has provided local organizers the foundations for moving forward.
“I don’t want to do little things,” Gehl said. “I want to do things that, if successful, wouldn’t just count as a win, that real people in their real lives would see and feel the difference in how their leaders act in Congress and in the states.”
The Institute for Political Innovation supports initiatives to implement “last five voting” – the combination of the first five primaries and instant general election voting – for elections to Congress and state legislatures. Gehl said the institute will support the Nevada initiative as much as it can, based on its future needs.
Unite America, Troiano’s organization, donated $100,000 in March and another $100,000 in June. (Gehl was previously a member of the group’s board of directors.) Reid Hoffman, the Democratic megadonor and co-chair of the Institute for Political Innovation, also donated $100,000. Dan Tierney, founder of investment firm Wicklow Capital in Illinois, also donated $50,000 in April.
Contributions from outside the state have long been a driving force behind initiatives like these. Unite America contributed more than $500,000 to the Alaska initiative, and much of the other donations came from organizations outside of Alaska. And Unite America co-chair Kathryn Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s daughter-in-law, gave more than $2 million to a first-choice Massachusetts initiative that ultimately failed. But the source of the money has led opponents to claim the initiative is driven by outside interests rather than a grassroots movement.
Other groups supporting the initiative include the Nevada Association of Realtors and the Clark County Education Association with $250,000 each; Workers’ Union Local 872 donated $25,000; and the Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers Election Action Committee donating $5,000.
Representatives from the Nevada Association of Realtors and the Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers Association primarily pointed to the large number of voters currently unable to participate in the primaries as the reason for their support for the initiative.
“While not a panacea for political polarization, we believe this initiative can give more voice to the nearly 40% of Nevada voters who are not members of the two largest political parties and who are currently disenfranchised. their rights during the primary process,” a Nevada Realtors spokesperson said in a statement.
Other contributors include Wynn Resorts, which donated $20,000 in June. Former Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox and his wife Katherine Maddox, along with board member Phil Satre and his wife Jennifer Satre, donated $5,000 each. Station Casinos also paid out $25,000.
A similar effort in Missouri failed to secure enough signatures to enter the November ballot. But preferential choice voting has grown in popularity at the local level. Cities like New York and San Francisco use the system, and it features in the November ballot in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, among other cities and counties.
Deb Otis, director of research at FairVote, a pro-ranked choice voting group, said the system’s growth at the local level helps give it momentum.
Gehl said she thinks it is beneficial for these initiatives to be adopted at the local level rather than through a national campaign. “Each state has a different dynamic,” she said. “There are some states that I don’t think that’s what they want to do. The cool thing about the bottom five vote is that you don’t have to make the changes in 50 states for it to make a difference.
“You will see a difference in the agency and freedom of leadership that their representatives in Congress have,” Gehl predicted, “regardless of what other states around them are doing.”
Already, the Alaska system may be protecting GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski from partisan backlash on her vote to convict Donald Trump for impeachment last year. Three House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump went on to run in partisan primaries in 2022; all lost.
But Murkowski did not have to face GOP voters in a closed contest due to the new voting system instituted in her state, and she is favored to defeat a field including a Trump-backed challenger in the ranked choice vote of november.
In Nevada, advocates pushed back on the concept that the electoral system is too complicated and worked to educate voters on how it works. Brezny said he’s confident the initiative is gaining momentum — and he hopes the Alaskan election will only help.
“Our enemy is not the opposition,” he said. “Our enemy is a lack of education on the subject.”