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Guns, Pot And Power Top Nevada's Ballot Issues

Nevada voters next week will decide on three hot-button ballot questions on gun-sale background checks, legalizing recreational marijuana and bolstering renewable energy.

At first glance, some of these issues might drive Democrats  to the polls on Tuesday, thereby helping Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, the gun-control ballot initiative might motivate rural Nevadans and second-amendment enthusiasts who tend to vote against Democrats for national offices.

Question 1 would require most people who want to transfer a firearm to another person to go through a licensed gun dealer, who would have to run a background check. This would appear to include guns given as birthday gifts or sold between family members.

Question 2 would legalize recreational marijuana use and direct the resulting tax revenues to public schools. Neighboring Colorado adopted a similar measure a few years ago.

And Question 3 aims to eliminate energy monopolies in the state and allow residents to have more choices on where they buy their electricity.

Ballots cast by just over 450,000 early voters in Nevada currently show that more Democrats than Republicans have voted so far, according to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office. Nearly 44 percent of the early ballots cast in person belonged to Democrats as of Tuesday, while Republicans cast 36 percent of ballots and about 20 percent belonged to independents and others. There is no way to know if people voted in line with their party registration.

“That’s typically the way it is here,” David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Brookings Institution fellow, told AMI Newswire. Democrats will put a lot of focus on early voting, while Republicans who come out to the polls on Tuesday will carry the day, Damore said. The question is whether Election Day votes will outnumber early votes.

The marijuana legalization measure could mobilize younger voters, including millennials and Bernie Sanders supporters who might not be too excited about voting for Clinton, he said.

“It has the potential to (boost turnout), but those issues have not gotten a lot of attention,” Damore said, since they’ve been crowded out by the presidential race.

Citizen initiatives in all 50 states this year number 71, the highest number since 2006, according to the political website Ballotpedia. And many of the measures before voters this year deal with issues that appeal to progressive voters, such as minimum wage hikes, pot legalization, gun restrictions and health-care reforms.

This contrasts to the political norm a decade or two ago, when ballot measures were typically used by conservatives to advance legislative term limits, tax cuts and limits on public spending. Some recent measures continue to appeal to conservatives, however, such as those dealing with changes in voting rights.

Law enforcement groups are somewhat divided on the gun background check proposal. Groups such as the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers and the Las Vegas Fraternal Order of Police support it, while most sheriffs in the state, Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt oppose it.

Question 1 would burden legal gun owners with costs and administrative hassles without making the state any safer, the measure’s foes say. A new University of Pittsburgh study concluded nearly 80 percent of those who commit crimes with guns get their firearms through theft or illegal trafficking, opponents said, so a new law would have little effect.

“Question 1 sounds good because we all support background checks,” Laxalt said in a television ad opposing the measure, which has the financial backing of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “But Question 1 is a sloppy legal disaster. It’s poorly written and can put honest Nevadans in jail.”

Supporters offer their own statistics, pointing to how the state’s rate for gun homicides resulting from domestic violence exceeds the national average by 65 percent. Nevada's population is, on average, younger than many other states and most domestic violence occurs between people under 45.

“In states that require criminal background checks for all handgun sales, almost 50 percent fewer police are killed with handguns and about half as many women are shot to death by abusive partners,” the supporters’ official ballot argument says.

Question 2 would allow adults to purchase, possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, with an excise tax of 15 percent on sales generating $30 million annually for K-12 public education, say supporters. It would prohibit pot use in public and impose penalties for those who give marijuana to minors.

Opponents see a danger of marijuana stores creeping into neighborhoods and selling child-friendly pot-laced candies, as they do in Colorado where marijuana-infused gummy bears are popular. They also warn that out-of-state corporations may profit from those sales.

Backers of Question 3 want to change the state constitution, which now requires customers in each electricity service area in the state to buy their power from a single utility that’s regulated by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission.

“Nevada has some of the highest electricity rates in the West …” says the supporters’ official ballot argument. “Many businesses, including those who would relocate here and create new jobs, want more renewable energy.”

But opponents see deregulation as a potential repeat of California’s entry into deregulated electricity in the 1990s. That led to the implosion of Enron, rolling blackouts and regional power shortages.

Another measure, Question 4, will ask voters whether to exempt certain medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and oxygen-delivery devices, from sales taxes as a measure of compassion for patients. The proposal would have a minuscule effect on the annual state budget – 0.025 percent – say supporters, but foes say the plan, coupled with other tax exemptions granted over the years, may put the stability of public services at risk.