Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2004 | 9:05 a.m.
U.S. District Judge James Mahan has struck down as unconstitutional Nevada's requirement that petition drives must obtain a minimum number of signatures in at least 13 of the state's 17 counties before they can qualify for the ballot. This provision in the Nevada Constitution is to ensure that initiatives don't get on the ballot unless they've received support from throughout the state. Mahan, though, cited a ruling last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found a similar signature provision in Idaho violated the constitutionally protected concept of "one person, one vote." Under this reasoning, if petition gatherers can get enough signatures in one large urban county to meet the total number of signatures required statewide, then that should be sufficient to qualify for the ballot. To do otherwise, the court held, would take away the voting rights of people who live in metropolitan areas.
There are two notable exceptions to the court's reasoning, though, that can be found in our political system -- both perfectly constitutional. Each state has two U.S. senators, no matter how large its population, an effort to protect small states from the tyranny of the majority. And our electoral college system that elects the president furthers that notion. When people vote for president they're casting a ballot for a state's electors, a system not based solely on population, but on a formula that is the sum of each state's two U.S. senators and its total number of representatives in the House. Nearly every state has a winner-take-all method of allocating its electoral votes, so someone can win the presidency but not the popular vote if he wins the right mix of states. That very scenario happened last election when George W. Bush lost the popular vote bu t was able to cobble together wins in enough states -- producing a majority of electoral votes -- to capture the presidency! .
In our view, Nevada's "13 counties" rule ensures that rural voters aren't disenfranchised. This provision guarantees that in a geographically large state such as ours, with two urban centers and 14 mostly rural counties, people from around the state will get a say in the matter before a petition can qualify for the ballot. Once the question is on the ballot, a simple majority of all the votes cast in the state will decide the outcome. That to us sounds like "one person, one vote," no matter what the court says.