Election Primer

Not interested in going to the polls this year? You should be—and here’s why.

illustration by jon estrada

illustration by jon estrada

Without a doubt, voter turnout will be lower for next month’s elections than in presidential years. And that’s shameful, because the issues and campaigns in off-year elections often have a bigger local impact than presidential elections do—really. If you are among those headed to the polls on or before November 4, here are some of the more important issues to consider:

Anytime the ballot includes more than one state initiative, there’s a Question 2. And since the turn of the most recent century, Question 2 has often been a lightning rod used to drive voters to the polls. For example, in 2000 and 2002, Question 2 asked whether to amend the Nevada Constitution to define marriage as between a man and woman. To their everlasting discredit, Nevadans overwhelmingly supported it both times, and Republicans used that support to push the anti-gay vote. In 2000, Question 2 helped George W. Bush win our state’s electoral votes, and two years later, it paved the way for Republicans to sweep the six statewide offices (they also almost took the Assembly).

Well, Democrats hope lieutenant governor candidate Lucy Flores is the “Question 2” of the 2014 ballot. Because she represents two significant party constituencies—women and Hispanics—Democrats are looking to Flores to galvanize the party the same way the gay-marriage ban united the Republicans. The question is, will she be enough to drive turnout?

Hispanics In Politics wasn’t too “HIP” this year. It mostly endorsed Republicans, with its leaders reasoning that they are the party that shows up at the polls. So HIP backed Mark Hutchison for lieutenant governor over Flores to avoid identity politics. Yet for overwhelmingly Democratic House District 1, it backed Republican Annette Teijeiro over Dina Titus, who has long roots in the district—this time in the interest of identity politics.

The lieutenant governor’s and attorney general’s races are getting the most attention and money. That makes sense. Democrats hope electing Flores over Hutchison will eliminate the possibility that Brian Sandoval would give up the governorship to challenge U.S. Senator Harry Reid in 2016 (a non-issue, since Sandoval won’t run, but that’s another matter). The attorney general’s race was interesting enough from a historical perspective—former Governor Bob Miller’s son against former Governor and U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt’s grandson. But their campaign has been truly nasty, with Adam Laxalt’s blistering internal evaluation at his law firm, as well as family members suggesting he has no business challenging Ross Miller for this job, and Laxalt’s supporters ripping Miller for accepting gifts.

Yet the more important race probably is for secretary of state. Across the country, Republicans have tried to capture this office as part of what is—let’s face it—an effort to make voter identification procedures more strict, which theoretically would limit minority voter turnout. This year, Nevadans will choose Kate Marshall or Barbara Cegavske for secretary of state, and it will be interesting to see whether region plays a role in the outcome: Marshall is a Democrat in Republican-heavy Northern Nevada, and Cegavske a Republican in more Democratic Southern Nevada. Many northerners usually prefer not to vote for southerners unless they have to. Advantage Marshall.

Apropos of that, Southern Nevadans prefer not to support tax increases, but there’s a strong chance they’ll back this year’s actual Question 2, which would (finally) end the tax break the mining industry has enjoyed since 1864. If the amendment doesn’t pass, Southern Nevadans will have proven that they can’t even unite on the question of whether water is wet. Rest assured, Northern Nevadans will be thrilled if this happens.

Lest we forget Question 3, known as the “margins tax” or “educational initiative” that would tax business revenue, with the idea that the money would go toward education. If the money spent for and against Question 3 during this election season actually went into education, we might solve some of our problems. Owners of small businesses may have a point when they say Question 3 will cripple them, but it’s tough to have much sympathy for larger corporations that have fought every other imaginable tax.

If nothing else, the issue itself has been educational. Teachers’ unions have been Question 3’s main supporters, but after helping to collect the signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot, AFL-CIO chief Danny Thompson is now doing ads opposing it; the Culinary Union is against it, too.

All of which reminds business and political leaders of what they already knew: that unions won’t stick together. Maybe teachers should start patronizing Station Casinos.

Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV.

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