RENO, NV – The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada supports a change to ward-only voting in general elections for the Reno City Council, a question on Reno residents ballots on November 6.

Under Reno’s current system, city council candidates run in the primary election in geographical wards, but winners of the primaries run citywide in the general election. So council members representing a ward are elected primarily by voters outside their wards, except for the one council seat (out of six) that is an at-large seat.

Explanatory language on the ballot in favor of changing to ward-only voting in general elections argues that such a system “will enhance the representative democracy of our system and increase the direct accountability of council members to voters. Maintaining the current system of running city-wide in the general election helps ensure that candidates beholden to special interest money and not the voters will prevail. This provides little chance for citizens who are more like us to serve. This change is an essential element of the Voting Rights Act and is used in nearly every other city across our great state. Currently, the Reno city council is an all-white governing body in a city that is 40% people of color. [Changing the system] will help increase voter turnout and participation as well as increase diversity and ensure a city council that is more representative of the people.”

“A bill to change to ward-only voting in Reno passed the 2011 Nevada Legislature, only to be vetoed by Governor Sandoval,” lamented Reno-based Vanessa Spinazola, Legislative and Advocacy Director of the ACLU of Nevada. “The Legislature was correct then, and the Reno City Council earlier this year also did the right thing by putting this question to Reno voters, even if this vote is non-binding.”

The question on Reno ballots will read, “RNO-1: This question is advisory only: Shall the five (5) City Council members representing wards continue to be voted upon by all registered voters of the City in the General Election?”

Dane S. Claussen, Executive Director of the ACLU of Nevada, explained, “Unfortunately, many voters will have to be educated that, counterintuitively, a ‘no’ vote on this ballot measure is a vote for positive change, while a ‘yes’ vote maintains the status quo. But clearly this measure is important enough to vigorously communicate that detail; not only is ward-only voting in general elections the right thing to do for citizens, but it will increase the chances that Reno cannot be accused in the future, of violating the federal Voting Rights Act. And that sole fact that Reno has a 40% minority population but no minority representation on its City Council has been enough to prompt significant research into whether Reno is legally vulnerable on this.”

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