Should Nevada have an open primary?

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Nevada primaries, particularly in a non-presidential year, don't have heavy voter participation.

Non-partisan voters are only allowed to cast their ballots in a few races, but are left out of many of the major contests.

One local political science professor says if you want more participation, open up the closed primary.

“And I think Nevada is operating boldly with a 1960s election system, and it needs to again, not do something that is a benefit to the party, but begin to think about the residents and the citizens of this state and how they can be brought to the table, and how their voices can be heard,” says Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College.

Open primaries are not a new concept. Several states have various versions of an open primary.

Some states leave it up to the parties to decide if they want non-partisan voters to participate in their contests. Other states allow voters to cross party lines if they publicly declare their ballot choices. A number of states allow unaffiliated voters to participate in any party primary they choose.

A move to change Nevada's current system to any one of those concepts would require a change in state statutes.

“It spells out what a primary is; for example it lists the primary date. That two separate ballots have to be printed for a primary election. There has to be a Democrat ballot, a Republican ballot--the way names need to appear on the ballot, all of that is listed in statute,” says Wayne Thorley, Nevada Deputy Secretary of State of Elections

One study out of Florida shows a 9% increase in voter turnout when open and closed primary states are compared.

Thorley says in Nevada about 10% of non-affiliated voters show up in the primary, yet they make up about a quarter of the state's electorate.

In the general election, the non-partisan voter in Nevada can play a major role as to who wins office and consequently that voter is heavily courted by both parties.

But so far, there is no appetite to open Nevada's primary and create that same kind of energy. Nevada’s legislature or a referendum by citizens would be required to change Nevada’s closed primary.