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Katherine M. Gehl, founder of The Institute for Political Innovation, speaks at The Aspen Institute (Photo: Twitter)

Wisconsin Millionaire Funds Nevada Ballot Question for Ranked Choice Voting and Open Primaries

Out-of-state plutocrats look to innovate Nevada elections

By Megan Barth, November 18, 2021 3:21 pm

As reported by the Nevada Independent, “A proposed ballot initiative filed on Friday would transform Nevada’s election system by moving to open primaries with a ranked-choice general election system.

In a press statement, prominent Las Vegas attorney Todd Bice said the measure will be backed by the Institute for Political Innovation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded last year by Katherine M. Gehl, an author, philanthropist and former CEO of a Wisconsin-based high-tech food-manufacturing company.

In a statement, the group said it was filing the initiative to ‘address the deficiencies of the primary election system’ and attempts to give the growing cohort of nonpartisan voters a greater say in state elections.’

‘With more than 35 percent of Nevada voters unable to vote in a primary because they are registered as independent or non-partisan, and many more feeling under-represented by their respective party, it is clear that this antiquated system needs to change,’  the group said in a statement.”

Maybe it’s a coincidence that this initiative was filed just days after the Democratic majority in the Nevada Legislature redistricted the state to secure a Democratic supermajority by eliminating swing districts. Maybe not.

Taking a deeper dive into the Institute for Political Innovation (IPI), their advisory board and and co-chairs are largely Democratic donors and activists. Founder and millionaire Katherine M Gehl has donated predominantly to Democratic candidates and once donated a small amount to the Nevada Democratic party. Her sister, JoJo Neumann, is listed as a cochair and a consultant.

Reid Hoffman (r), founder of LinkedIn, pictured with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook (Photo: Twitter)

Billionaire Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn is also co chair. Famous not only for founding LinkedIn, but as a Democratic mega-donor from his seven figure donations and related investments to ensure Democrats get elected, like Doug Jones in Alabama. As a fervent Jones supporter, Reid Hoffman funded a company that ran a misinformation campaign against Roy Moore using Russian bots. Yes, you read that right.  Russian bots.  Reid has since apologized.

The Nevada Independent also reports that Todd Bice is the only individual listed on the petition notice.

“Bice is currently the only individual listed on the petition notice and the affiliated political action committee (Nevada Voters First), but the group said it would be announcing members of a supportive, bipartisan coalition in the coming weeks. Much of the language of the initiative is based on the organization’s “Final-Five Voting” concept — which it says is not “synonymous” with typical ranked-choice voting systems. The initiative would amend the state Constitution to require that most high-profile partisan elections in Nevada move to open primaries with a ranked-choice voting system in place for the general election. Those races notably would exclude the presidential race, but include U.S. Senate and House seats, statewide office elections — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and controller — as well as legislative races.”

Of note, Todd Bice has donated thousands of dollars over the years to Cong. Susie Lee (D-NV3) and President Joe Biden.

“Under language of the initiative, primary elections in the state would be opened up to all voters regardless of political party, with the top five vote-getters advancing to the general election. Rather than just selecting their top choice, voters in the general election would be able to mark candidates in their order of preference (ranking)….The initiative — which would need to be passed in subsequent elections to take effect — would require state lawmakers to implement the new ranked-choice system no later than July 1, 2025, meaning it would take effect by the 2026 election,” the Nevada Independent reports, and if adopted would require an amendment to the state constitution.

In a brief conversation with Jim Settelmeyer after SB1 passed the legislature, Settelmeyer stressed that independents, representing 35% of the electorate had been disenfranchised by the maps and hinted at his support for open primaries, “If you look at New Jersey and Virginia, it is up to the voters to decide how angry they are. Fundamentally those states also have an interesting concept. They don’t have partisan registration. Anyone can vote in the primary. Twenty states do that. Nevada doesn’t. Independents and non-partisans are really the ones who have been disenfranchised by this process. Independents represent the largest political party in Washoe county, but they aren’t represented in any of these new Senate or Assembly districts.”

As previously noted by the Globe, Sen. Settelmeyer is a bit mistaken here. While Virginia does have so-called “open primaries,” New Jersey has traditional closed primaries in which only registered Republicans and Democrats can vote in their respective primaries.

Apparently, out-of-state millionaires and billionaires have taken a sudden interest in innovating Nevada’s elections. Unsure if ranked voting would be supported by Settelmeyer, The Globe has reached out to him for his comment on this initiative and is awaiting his reply. We will update the article, accordingly.

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Megan Barth
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