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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Bravo, crazymonk. I hope they print it. Let us know if they do.

Slater | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 11:53am

woot! FYI, just got permission to work the back channels on this one. We'll see where it goes.

flea | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 11:55am

Don't you think people should be able to vote yes on both, on the principle that they support both the mild measure and the more extreme one? Otherwise, you may end up splitting the vote, and then even though, say, 85% of Nevada voters support a smoking ban in schools, you end up with less than 50% of the vote for either one, so neither passes.

In CA, we had competing initiatives on prescription drugs on the last ballot. Same rule applies -- whichever gets the most votes over 50% wins. But I forget whether the ballot itself said so, or just the voter information guide that way fewer people read. (Neither actually passed.)

Lorelei | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 11:58am

I clicked on the responses to post pretty much what Lorelai says more eloquently than I could have. I think confusing questions that don't really make sense are one of the huge problems of these initiatives. I remember being confused by the prescription drug issues on the ballot, so I went with the one that was not introduced by the drug companies. I guess it has become not so much what the ballots say, but who supports each initiative.

The Rodenator | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 12:19pm

No, I don't think they should be able to vote yes on both. If neither passes, that means neither one was good enough to gain the support of the majority of voters. While I understand your point, the current system is confusing and leads to such campaigns as "Yes on 5, No on 4." If I had my druthers before the ballot language was crafted, I'd request that the questions be combined, and that the options would be choice 1, choice 2, or neither. If we used a ranking system for voting, that would help even more to elicit the people's actual preference.

crazymonk | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 12:19pm

Aye, crazymonk. You've got it right I believe.

Slater | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 12:22pm

Also, I think Lorelei and Rodenator's point would be more valid if the more "extreme" measure passed if it had a majority, not just if it has a bigger majority. Again, doing otherwise gives opponents an incentive to introduce moderate initiatives just to head off a slightly less popular extreme.

crazymonk | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 12:22pm

but it's in none of the power players' interests to combine the resolutions. A well-funded institution, like some anti-smoking group, uses its money and gets signatures to get the issue on the ballot. People respond well to things that "protect children" so it's an easy win on the face of things. The casinos get scared and draft a deliberately deceptive counter-measure with their unlimited resources. Sure, it's better for the voters if the mutual exclusivity was pointed out. But the interest group doesn't want the casino group's measure put in the same resolution - they don't want it around in the first place. And the casinos don't want combination - they want to confuse the voters! If there were a law about combining resolutions it would have to specify what constitutes combination, and if I were drafting an intentionally confusing initiative I would do so in a way that prevents this from happening, by including some other minor detail or some such strategy. I guess the best thing to do is say "if the ballot measures cancel each other out, they have to be a single measure." But all entities large enough to craft these resolutions would be opposed to such a thing, and they have enough power to keep the legislation from being enacted.

Jon May | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 12:36pm

Couldn't this specific issue be solved with one initiative that covers smoking in school and day care centers and another that covers smoking in those gaming areas? (Obviously that makes things too simple for the voter.) It would be ironic if people wanted to ban smoking in those gaming areas, but not in schools.

The Rodenator | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 12:38pm

I agree with you, Jon, that's the why. But I see that you agree that it's not a good situation.

As for Rodenator's point, I think the initiative process requires signatures for a particular issue, and then the state crafts the language. I don't see why they should be limited to crafting the language in any way they want, but there's probably state law that guides how they do it. I guess what I'm saying is that that state law, or the practices of the Secretary of State, need to be reformed.

crazymonk | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 12:54pm

If neither passes, that means neither one was good enough to gain the support of the majority of voters.

Fair enough. Though in practice, I think it's less about whether it was good enough and more about which one the voter saw first. I agree that a ranking system is a better solution. (And in fact, ballot initiatives might be a not-scary-to-the-elite place to introduce new voting methods like ranked preferences in this country.)

Lorelei | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 12:56pm

Although the two proposals may be contradictory, there's no reason why a person can't support both. For example, if you really care about banning smoking at schools and don't care at all about whether smoking is or is not allowed at casinos, then you'd be in favor of both bills. The contradiction is irrelevant as it's not what you're making your decision on. As long as both proposals ban smoking in schools, you're neutral as to which one passes and you vote 'yes' on both.

So, yeah, I don't mind the contradiction. Although it certainly wouldn't hurt to make it clear to people before they vote.

Side note, is there actually a widespread scourge of people smoking at video arcades or day care centers?

Ingen Angiven | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 1:29pm

How does the polling work in Nevada (I imagine it varies across the state)? Can't someone just read over the whole ballot before they vote on any issue? I realize most people don't vote that way, but with the initiatives sometimes that is a good idea.

Do you remember those tests where the first instruction was to read all of the instructions before doing anything. Then there were a bunch of silly instructions: dance around in a circle, stick out your tongue, do 5 jumping jacks. Finally the last instuction told you to disregard all of the instructions barring itself and the first one.

The Rodenator | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 2:14pm

They use an electronic ballot, which goes through the questions sequentially. It's probably possible to go back and forth between the questions, but I highly doubt anyone does it.

crazymonk | Tue, 09/26/2006 - 2:26pm

Despite it's warm and fuzzy title, Question 4 is clearly intended to protect smoking in areas where slot machines exist other than casinos (e.g. Convenience Stores, Grocery Stores, Bowling Alleys). All this initiave does is prevent minors from going near the slots (even though that law is already on the books). The problem is that the smoke obeys no laws (other than the laws of physics). And it permits the smoker to SMOKE ANYWHERE IN A BUSINESS WITH AT LEAST ONE SLOT MACHINE, not just at the slot machine. So 200 feet away from the slot area at the bowling alley, the Smoker can light up at the childrens' birthday party. This is responsible? This stinker should be called, "Responsibly protect Slot Income and Screw the Children". I hope nobody is fooled by this desperate tactic. Protect children and vote for the real smoking ban. Vote Yes on 5, no on 4. Joe

Joe | Wed, 10/25/2006 - 3:21pm

I voted for both. I want a smoking bam and don't care if either one passes. Let's skip ahead a few years to the next ballot where "All smoking in public places is banned." That's what we should have voted for this time around, but the casinos will fight against it. Smoking, gambling, and alcohol addictions go hand-in-hand.

I can see in fifty or a hundred years that making and selling tobaco in all forms will be illegal. As my borther says, "If smoking killed you in five years, instead of thirty or forty it would be illegal."

Bob Suruncle | Wed, 11/08/2006 - 10:10am

Alcohol can kill you in about 30 minutes, and that certainly isn't illegal.

Anyway, it seems like you didn't realize that Question 4 did not ban smoking in any additional places than we have now, and that it would've weakened the ability for local governments in making stricter smoking laws.

crazymonk | Wed, 11/08/2006 - 10:17am