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Primary election date moved up

Geoff Dornan

CARSON CITY – Voters long accustomed to having primary elections in September will have to get used to voting nearly a month earlier because of changes made by the 2005 Legislature.

Secretary of State Dean Heller wanted the primary moved back as far as May, but lawmakers thought that too dramatic a change.

Instead, they set the primary 12 weeks ahead of the general election – which remains the first Tuesday in November.

Next year, that sets the primary on Aug. 15.

“It buys us about three weeks,” said Carson City Clerk Alan Glover. “We would have taken three hours if that’s all we could get.”

Glover said that small change will help clerks get overseas ballots out on time as well as help with technical problems involving the new electronic voting machines.

He said some officials including Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, were concerned changing the primary date might reduce turnout. But Glover said many people are used to casting their ballot in August already because of early voting.

Heller’s chief deputy Renee Parker said the August date also helps counties that use schools as polling places because it’s before the start of the school year.

Nonetheless, both said clerks as well as candidates for office need to make an effort to ensure voters – especially long time voters who are used to the September primary – are aware of the new schedule.

Parker said other important changes are to the initiative and referendum petition process including legislation clarifying when legal challenges can be filed.

The law limits challenges to the seven-day period following the Secretary of State’s ruling that a petition qualifies for the ballot.

The law also requires petition organizers to briefly explain the effect any petition would have if approved by voters.

She said opponents have 30 days after the petition is filed to challenge it if they believe the description incorrect or misleading. “I think the description will really help the voters,” she said.

In addition, Parker said the secretary of state’s office can get a fiscal note on the financial impact of any petition from the Legislative Counsel Bureau and post it while the petition is being circulated. In the past, they couldn’t get the estimated financial impact of a petition until after it qualified for the ballot so those who signed were often unaware a petition could have a large financial impact on the state.

Glover said those changes should help “front-end load the lawsuits on petitions and give us a little more room at the end.” He said the idea is to avoid the crush of court-room appearances that occurred in 2004 right up until the November election.

Parker said the idea was to try get legal challenges out of the way before a petition is put on the ballot.

Lawmakers also adopted a rule limiting petitions to one subject. It mandates all the changes proposed by any petition be “fundamentally related and germane to each other.” There were complaints in 2004 that petitions involving the minimum wage were not only misleading but contained multiple issues that should have been separated into separate petitions.

Other changes are designed to ensure that public buildings are open to petition circulators. If a judge finds circulators have been interfered with, the new law says the judge can extend the deadline for collecting signatures by a number of days equivalent to the time they were denied. That was passed in response to a Las Vegas judge’s ruling in 2004 extending signature gathering for one petition drive by 30 days – which Parker said was far more time than circulators lost when denied access to the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Another issue raised by the 2004 election was the status of new voters who get registered the same day they sign a petition. Historically, voters had to be officially registered with county clerks on or before the day they sign a petition. The new law gives three days for their registration form to reach a county clerk’s office. Parker said that’s designed to accommodate those who sign up and sign a petition on a Friday evening or weekend when their registration can’t be filed with a clerk.


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