The dueling anti-smoking initiatives in Nevada
Leaving aside the marijuana initiative campaign I'm working for, there are two anti-smoking initiatives on the Nevada ballot this November. Question 5 bans smoking on school grounds and in day-care centers, shopping malls, video arcades, the slot machine sections of grocery and convenience stores, and bars that serve food and restaurants. Question 4, which was introduced by casino and gaming interests in Nevada in response to Question 5, bans smoking in public schools and day cares, but would continue to allow smoking in the gaming areas of grocery, convenience stores, and bars. According to state law, if both of the conflicting initiatives pass with a majority, only the initiative with the most votes would become law.
Today, the Las Vegas Review-Journal released a poll showing that 77% of the respondents support Question 4, and 62% of the respondents support Question 5. That means at least 29% and at most 62% of the respondents support both initiatives, even though they are mutually exclusive! I've looked at the ballot language for both, and it's clear that the Secretary of State has made no attempt to clarify this point to Nevada voters.
Imagine if these two questions were about raising the minimum wage and that you generally support an increase. If the first question you read asked you whether you wanted to raise the minimum wage by 10 cents, you'd probably vote yes. If the second question then asked you if you wanted to raise it by $1.00, you'd probably vote yes again. If the questions were reversed, however, you might decide to vote no on the 10 cent raise since you've now seen there's a better option on the ballot. In other words, the order of the questions matter when the questions are intertwined. I feel like the only way to handle this situation is to present the two questions at the same time, or to be extra clear to Nevada voters about the related questions.
I became so fustrated by this poorly designed election mechanism that I wrote a letter-to-the-editor to the Review-Journal, who didn't seem to blink an eye to the respondents who contradicted themselves. I hope they print it:
Secretary of State needs to clarify anti-smoking initiatives
The results of the poll on the anti-smoking initiatives (" Poll finds strong support for both anti-smoking initiatives," Sep. 26) should concern all Nevada voters. The polls found that both initiatives have a large majority of support even though the two initiatives directly contradict each other, indicating that a large number of respondents are unaware that the two initiatives are mutually exclusive. Regardless of the underlying policy issues, it's alarming that the Secretary of State has decided to put this question to the voters using two complex and order-sensitive questions, without indicating in the condensed ballot language of either that a "Yes" vote for one negates a "Yes" vote for the other. By not clarifying the unique interaction between these two initiatives, the Secretary of State has created a perverse incentive for future initiative opponents to introduce a less restrictive initiative in order to "game" the election mechanism. This problem could be solved by either by posting signs at polling locations explaining the matter, or by tweaking the electronic ballot software to present both questions simultaneously while not allowing a "Yes" vote on both initiatives, just like presently it does not allow a "Yes" and "No" vote on the same question. Without such a solution, the Secretary of State is failing democracy in Nevada.
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