State's primary election date moved up a month

Voters long accustomed to having primary elections in September will have to get used to voting nearly a month earlier because of changes made by the 2005 Legislature.

Secretary of State Dean Heller wanted the primary moved back as far as May, but lawmakers thought that was too dramatic a change.

Instead, they set the primary 12 weeks ahead of the general election - which remains the first Tuesday in November.

Next year, that puts the primary on Aug. 15.

"It buys us about three weeks," said Carson City Clerk Alan Glover. "We would have taken three hours, if that's all we could get."

Glover said that small change will help clerks get overseas ballots out on time and help with technical problems involving the new electronic voting machines.

He said some officials, including Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, were concerned that changing the primary date might reduce turnout. But Glover said many people are used to casting their ballots in August because of early voting.

Heller's chief deputy, Renée Parker, said the August date also helps counties which use schools as polling places because it's before the start of the school year.

Nonetheless, both said clerks as well as candidates for office need to make an effort to ensure that voters - especially long-time voters who are used to the September primary - are aware of the new schedule.

Parker said that is one of several changes lawmakers made this session. She said the most important changes are to the initiative and referendum petition process, including legislation clarifying when legal challenges can be filed. The law limits challenges to the seven-day period following the secretary of state's ruling that a petition qualifies for the ballot.

The law also requires petition organizers to do a brief explanation of the effect any petition would have if approved by voters.

She said opponents have 30 days after the petition is filed to challenge it if they believe the description incorrect or misleading.

"I think the description will really help the voters," she said.

In addition, Parker said the Secretary of State's Office can get a fiscal note on the financial impact of any petition from the Legislative Counsel Bureau and post it while the petition is being circulated.

In the past, the office couldn't get the estimated financial impact of a petition until after it qualified for the ballot, so those who signed were often unaware a petition could have a large financial impact on the state.

Glover said those changes should help "front-end load the lawsuits on petitions and give us a little more room at the end." He said the idea is to avoid the crush of courtroom appearances that occurred in 2004 right up until the November election.

Lawmakers also adopted a rule limiting petitions to one subject. It mandates that all the changes proposed by any petition be "fundamentally related and germane to each other."

Other changes are designed to ensure that public buildings are open to petition circulators. If a judge finds circulators have been interfered with, the new law says the judge can extend the deadline for collecting signatures by a number of days equivalent to the time they were denied.

Another issue raised by the 2004 election was the status of new voters who register the same day they sign a petition. Historically, voters had to be officially registered with county clerks on or before the day they sign a petition. The new law gives three days for their registration form to reach a county clerk's office.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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