As Nov. 8 draws closer, presidential candidates are targeting battleground states like Nevada to call on voter participation and support. As voter attention to the presidential race increases, voters may be drawn away from focusing on the nonpartisan races farther down the ballot.
In Reno’s City Council at-large race, two candidates face off in an election that decides which candidate will represent the entire city, rather than just one ward. Incumbent David Bobzien won the primary election in June for the Reno City Council at-large seat by 63 percent. In the four-way primary race, Bobzien’s challenger in the general election, Sam Kumar, received just 16 percent of the vote.
Bobzien served four terms in the Nevada State Assembly and was appointed to his current position on the Reno City Council in 2014. Even though the “D” that recognizes a Democratic candidate will not appear next to Bobzien’s name on the Nov. 8 ballot, he is a registered Democrat. According to his campaign message, Bobzien plans to address Reno’s resurging economy with his expertise and experience to ensure a greater quality of life for the Reno community.
Kumar is a registered Republican and served as chairman of the Washoe County Republican Party. He is currently the program manager at a tech firm in Reno. Kumar has criticized the Reno City Council for lacking the expertise needed to make decisions that impact the community.
“Typical nonpartisan elections are not nonpartisan; typically candidates tell people what their party is,” said Kevin Banda, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno. “They may not stick it on their signs, but when you go to one of their events they will tell you, ‘I am a registered Democrat or Republican, and the reason they do that is to give people a party cue so they know. This person is a Democrat, so am I, so I am going to vote for them.’”
Historically, the farther voters go down their ballots, the less likely they are to vote. Nonpartisanship adds to the decrease in voter participation.
“In a world where people do not have access to the candidates’ partisanship, nobody votes,” Banda said. “When you combine going down the ballot with not having those party labels on the ballot, that confuses people. People get down there and they see the two names and have not heard of either and they do not see a D or an R. They do not know what to do so they skip.”
According to Kumar, the nonpartisan race takes more research from the voters and increased efforts from the candidates.
“It is definitely a challenge, but therein lies the fun,” Kumar said. “It gives me an opportunity to go out there, not be biased or have to take a biased view based upon my political view. It is a clean slate.”
In Nevada, there are around 235,000 registered nonpartisan voters and over 56,000 registered Independent American voters, according to the Office of Nevada Secretary of State. The amount of registered nonpartisan voters in Nevada is half of the amount of both registered Democrats and Republicans. There are over 470,000 registered Democrats and around 424,000 Republicans.
“In Nevada, we have a culture that thinks nonpartisanship is good; however, we see that it is bad because no one really knows what they are doing,” Banda said.
Incumbent candidate Bobzien has an advantage over his opponent due to his name recognition.
“I’ve found in talking to people and going door to door, people don’t really expect a council person to be partisan one way or another,” Bobzien said.
Compared to candidates in partisan elections, nonpartisan candidates are required to do more public events and go door to door talking to voters.
This election’s presidential race has been categorized as unusual and has made a great impact not only on voter turnout but also on candidates in Senate and Congressional races. The two candidates for the City Council at-large seat have differing opinions on how the abnormal, highly partisan presidential race has affected their race.
“There are few people that are confident in either presidential candidate, there are some, but the majority of people are not engaged and are thinking ‘Is this the best we can do?’” Kumar said. “I hope at that point they take a look down the ballot and see that not everyone on the ballot is as unacceptable as the candidates at the top of the ballot. There are many acceptable candidates at the different levels.”
Bobzien said he hopes the presidential election will drive a better turnout across the board.
“I think, if anything, the response people have had to the national election will drive greater interest in all areas of politics and in all areas of the ballot,” Bobzien said.
According to Banda, nonpartisan elections are confusing and lead to a decrease in voter participation.
“Nonpartisan elections are very bad democratically if you think it is important for people to make informed choices,” Banda said. “They are bad because they do not send that clear partisan signal. A lot of people do not like that signal, but it turns out that’s how most people make up their minds about politics in the United States and those party afflilation.”