Partisan primaries dividing voters, keeping some home come November

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) Less than 20 percent of the state's eligible voters will likely cast ballots in next week's primary in Nevada. The tenor of the campaign may help depress the turnout in November as well.

To one longtime Nevada political observer, it's part of what ails today's politics. One need look no further than the showdown for the Democratic nomination for governor. It quickly got nasty and personal.

"Some of the first ads started taking the shots," says political scientist and Truckee Meadows Community College professor Fred Lokken. "There's a real question whether there will be bad blood in this party that will keep Democrats home in November."

The matchup follows a pattern seen elsewhere this year, the party establishment's choice versus the insurgents: Steve Sisolak, anointed by longtime party leader Harry Reid, and Chris Giunchigliani, though no newcomer to Nevada politics, representing a different wing of the party,

"They feel they're unwelcome in most of the mainstream party, don't feel that their voice is being heard. Steve Sisolak is too conservative, I think, for most mainstream Democrats and Chris G is possible too progressive for most mainstream Democrats."

The problem may be more visible at the moment in Nevada among Democrats, but a decade of purges and dysfunction has done similar damage to the state Republican party.

"I get the feeling sometimes that Democrats are just joining the ranks of this chaos and this breakdown of the two party system in this country."

And Lokken wonders what it's doing to the majority of voters who are sitting on the sidelines, including the increasing number of independents who are, as in many states, locked out of these partisan primaries.

"Americans are rejecting the two-party system. We've never had so many non-partisans register, not only in Nevada but across the country. They are not extreme left or extreme right."

There will be winners and losers next Tuesday. In the long run, Lokken argues the parties themselves will be counted among the latter.

"This is going to be a very difficult election year for parties both in Nevada and nationally. That's because our election system is designed to aid and abet and make it easy for parties and not our citizens, and that's just ridiculous."

And not, he says, to their eventual benefit. Which is unfortunate, Lokken says, because we would all benefit from strong, organized political parties open to reform and compromise.

None of this helps eventual voter turnout. Nevada ranks 46th in the nation in that regard. Solutions might include an open and later primary, easing restrictions on registration, more transparency in campaign financing, and reforms that might reverse the cynicism that keep many from the polls.

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