18 Things You Need to Know Before You Go to the Ballot Box

Your Seven-Minute Election Primer

On Nov. 6, everything will change—meaning that you will once again be able to turn on your television set without being assaulted by extreme close-ups of Shelley Berkley. Other than that, the notion of “change” is up for grabs: The election season has been rife with the customary mix of pocketbook-soothing pabulum and venomous lies, generally from people promising to break with “business as usual.” The parties seem uniformly incapable of downfield vision and uncomfortable truth-telling, but behind all the pandering, serious questions loom about the role of government, the importance of individual responsibility and the ways in which the two things are not mutually exclusive. So, yes, do vote. But first take a look at our humble primer.

Five Things at Stake for Nevada

1. Medicaid. The Nevada Legislature will decide whether the state participates in the expansion of Medicaid that’s part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—a.k.a. “Obamacare.” At a recent health-care forum, state Assemblywoman April Mastroluca, D-Clark County, characterized this as, by far, the thorniest issue the 2013 Legislature will face. (She should know, having chaired the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee in the last session.)

2. The safety net. The recession has aggravated Southern Nevada’s homeless/poverty problem. If funding for Head Start, homeless shelters, mental-health facilities and other public-assistance programs doesn’t increase, more people will fall through the ever-bigger holes in our tattered safety net.

3. Green jobs. Remember all that talk about alternative energy fueling our much-needed economic diversification? Turns out the states (and countries) willing to offer incentives to—and investment in—green startups are mostly outside Nevada. This Legislature has a chance to stand up to NV Energy and kick-start a renewable revolution that could employ thousands, position our state for the future and insulate us from the shock of downturns in our traditional monoconomy.

4. Our water. A bunch of state and local officials banded together this month to officially demand that any future shale-oil development in Colorado, Utah or Wyoming come with the condition that it not contaminate the Colorado River upstream from Sin City. They handed their demands over to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, an Obama appointee. A new administration would mean a new audience for those demands.

5. Public lands. If you love your wilderness areas, campgrounds and bike trails, you better know your candidates’ positions on them. The president decides who’s in charge of the BLM, and the BLM controls some 70 percent of Nevada’s outdoor spaces (the Forest Service, Department of Defense and other agencies have another 15 percent or so). Legislators also have a say in bills like the one Heller and Sen. Harry Reid proposed to establish Tule Springs as a national monument.

Related Content: What Should You Ask Yourself Before You Vote?

1. We have the greatest impact in the races closest to us, yet we spend the least time researching them. Focus on the candidates for whom you can actually vote. Remember: Districts have changed. If you’re not sure about yours, go to ClarkCountyNV.gov/Vote, where there’s lots of handy information—your districts, candidates, polling places. Once you’ve nailed that, visit your local candidates’ websites, then go see them at town halls and meet-and-greets. Don’t be afraid to shake hands and ask questions. Personal connections are the best research.


2. Nevada is turning blue. Hispanics keep us a swing state, but that population, which voted 2-to-1 in favor of Barack Obama in the last election, grew 82 percent from 2000 to 2010. Continued growth could swing us right into the Democrat column … unless, that is, Republicans change their message on immigration reform and other issues of importance to Hispanics.

3. This year, 89% of Vegas-based Zappos’ political contributions have gone to Democrats. Parent company Amazon, meanwhile, has given 59 percent of its contributions to Republicans.


4. This ain’t South Carolina; you don’t need photo identification to vote in Nevada … unless there’s a discrepancy between the information you gave in your voter registration and your information on file with the DMV or Social Security Administration. Have a picture ID on you if that’s the case. Otherwise, you’re good to go, because Nevada isn’t one of the 33 states that have passed voter ID laws.

5. The Clark County School District needs a writing tutor. Hello, copy editing? Could you take a look at this ballot initiative, because we can’t understand a word of it: Question No. 2 on the ballot unfortunately took the vital issue of school funding and subjected it to the sloppy ballot-initiative process, resulting in a sloppily worded proposal. It leaves voters with a choice between voting against school funding or for a law so vague that nobody can project what its consequences may be.


6. Public employees are under the gun. I’m a public employee. Republicans think I’m useless. Democrats don’t want to admit that I’m useful. Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office originally promised to try to end the 4.5 percent pay cuts and furloughs that state employees have suffered, then said lower-than-expected revenues mean they’ll probably have to stay. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Republicans at the ballot box.


7. The library needs some marketing mojo. It’s fashionable to say libraries are out of date in the digital age, but the folks who say this apparently don’t spend much time at the library. Libraries are prime digital access points for thousands of Southern Nevadans—and in a socially atomized culture, the ol’ book barns are increasingly our de facto community centers. So if Henderson’s libraries lose their funding initiative, it’s not a sign that they need to change what they’re doing, but a wake-up call to better market what they do.


8. Democrat Marcus Conklin, the likely winner of District 37, is lined up to become speaker of the state Assembly. That means all Nevadans should let him know how they feel about the economy, energy policy, job creation, Medicaid and anything else the state controls. We’ll make it easy for you: MarcusConklin.com/Contact.


9. The 2013 Legislature will decide the near future of our colleges and universities. The Nevada System of Higher Education proposes changing the funding formula to emphasize outcomes—meaning graduation rates—without considering that many students go to community colleges simply to complete requirements more cheaply before going on to universities. But the plan would take money from Northern colleges. The Legislature has to approve the budget, and even with Clark County having 72 percent of the membership, chances are this will get caught up in wheeling and dealing, probably to Southern Nevada’s detriment.

10. Red Rock conservationists who live in State Senate District 9 have an ally in Justin Jones. Local environmentalists say Jones walks the walk, donating hundreds of hours to conserving public lands and vowing to do whatever it takes to protect Red Rock from development.

11. “None of these candidates” will be on the Nevada ballot, after all.


12. If Mitt Romney wins, Gov. Brian Sandoval may end up in his Cabinet after the 2014 gubernatorial election. Sandoval is mentioned as a potential Cabinet secretary in a Romney administration. At the same time, the former Nevada attorney general and federal judge has vowed to fill out his first term, which ends in 2014. A June poll of 500 Nevada voters found the Republican governor leading his potential Democratic opponents, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, by at least 20 points. One scenario being bandied about: Sandoval will fulfill his promise to serve out his term, then win re-election and later resign to become attorney general or interior secretary in a Romney administration. That would leave Nevada’s newly elected lieutenant governor to replace him. But the current lieutenant governor, Brian Krolicki, cannot run again in 2014 because of term limits. And if a Democrat were to win the race to replace Krolicki, Sandoval might have second thoughts about resigning to fill a Cabinet post.


13. Term limits are not your friend. In 1994 and 1996, Nevadans voted to amend their constitution to limit legislators’ terms; they can serve 12 years in each house. This has eliminated much of the Legislature’s institutional memory and seniority, giving more power to those who draft the bills and lobby for or against them.

14. We are all the 47 percent. Or was it the 99 percent? Or are we all the one percent, and the other 99 percent are actually the zero percent? We forget, but it seems reasonable enough that most of us both contribute to our nation and benefit from its government. It’s a simple truth; no math required.


15. Clark County legislators need that hometown spirit. Whether Republicans or Democrats control the Legislature ultimately won’t matter nearly so much as this: Clark County’s delegation has more than the two-thirds necessary to control the budget and tax hikes, and override any veto by the governor. They could vote together to force the state to support education in such a way as to promote economic diversification, or make up for the historic underfunding of Clark County.

16. No matter who you vote for, he/she will not singlehandedly fix the economy. We want the best, most affordable products, and that means that U.S. corporations have shipped millions of jobs overseas to produce the cheap stuff we demand. But we also demand good-paying jobs to purchase those items. The tension between these desires created the economic challenge of our time: The next time you shop—or vote—realize that the problem is global and systemic, and that it starts with our own consumer habits.


17. Walk the walk.

If you don’t like the election results on Nov. 6, you can spend the next 24 to 48 months acting like a 3-year-old who didn’t get dessert. Or you can take democracy into your own hands: The next filing dates for statewide races are March 3-21, 2014. (So, you know, plenty of time to sweep those skeletons back into your closet.)


18. Remind yourself that this election is important. You never know you’re in the hurricane if you’re in its eye, but, well, this is the hurricane. (See “Five Things at Stake for Nevada,” this page.)

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