Gennady Stolyarov II
Note: Senate Bill 292 (SB292), which would make it essentially impossible for minor political parties to compete at the ballot box or even attempt ballot access, continues to be rapidly advanced in Nevada. It was authored by a former Democratic Party Chair who would like to require the number of signatures to be impossibly “equally apportioned” by petitioning district, move the deadline for submitting petitions to an earlier June 1 date, and institute straight-line party-ticket voting that shuts out other options and discourages individualized decision-making.
After SB292 passed on a party-line vote (3 Democrats in favor, 2 Republicans opposed) out of the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections, I drafted a letter to the Senate Committee on Finance, where the bill is headed next, in opposition to SB292. The text of this letter appears below.
I urge all Nevadans and Transhumanist Party members, as well as those who are sympathetic to other minor political parties, to submit their opinions in opposition to SB292 here: https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/Opinions/81st2021/. Be sure to reference the amended, “April 16, 2021” version as the bill you are opposing – so as to signal that even the recently amended bill continues to pose serious problems. If you would like your comments to be published, you can also submit them via e-mail to SenFIN@sen.state.nv.us.
The Senate Committee on Finance will meet this Wednesday, May 5, at 6:30 p.m. Pacific Time to hold a public hearing on this bill. Meeting information will be updated on this page: https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/81st2021/Bill/7895/Meetings. If you can dial in during the time period for public testimony and lend your voice in opposition, that would be greatly appreciated. Focus your testimony on the adverse fiscal impacts of this bill, as that is what the Committee will be primarily considering. Please feel free to reference any of my arguments below for inspiration. Remember to be civil and respectful but firm in your opposition!
~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party, May 4, 2021
May 4, 2021
Re: Opposition to Amended Senate Bill 292 (First Reprint)
Dear Chairman Brooks and honorable members of the Senate Committee on Finance:
As Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party and Chief Executive of the Nevada Transhumanist Party, I strongly urge you to oppose Senate Bill 292, which would deprive all minor political parties in Nevada of the opportunity to fairly compete at the ballot box or to even viably attempt such competition.
My comments today will focus on the adverse impacts of Section 2 of the amended (First Reprint) Senate Bill 292, especially the adverse financial impacts to the State of Nevada which are germane to the purview of this Committee.
At a time of great fiscal strain to the State of Nevada, which is just beginning to recover from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, and immense economic hardship for the people of this State, it is highly imprudent to impose additional costs upon the State or any of its agencies for the doubly imprudent and entirely deleterious purpose of raising the barriers to ballot access for minor political parties.
While the amended bill no longer raises the petition-signature threshold from 1% to 2% of the Nevada voters who voted in the last election, it does still, via Section 2, Subsection 2, Paragraph (c), seek to impose an impossible “equal apportionment” requirement for the petition signatures and would also move the deadline for submitting petition signatures from the current third Friday in June to June 1.
The “equal apportionment” requirement renders it essentially impossible for a minor political party to qualify via the petition process and also unnecessarily burdens the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office.
Currently, to verify the validity of a petition signature, the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office simply needs to consider an individual petition signature and whether it belongs to a registered voter in the State of Nevada. With Section 2 of SB292, the Secretary of State’s Office would have the additional burden of verifying that the signatures are “equally apportioned” among the four petition districts in Nevada. This could lead to a significant expenditure of time and resources beyond what can be formally budgeted for – because the added workload would be sporadic, punctuated, and inherently unpredictable given the difficulty in anticipating when (i.e., during what election season) a minor party would seek to qualify for ballot access, as well as how many minor parties would seek to qualify. The potential for significant additional costs to the State of Nevada will be illustrated below via a discussion of how the bill would burden the State by encouraging a multitude of major-party challenges to any minor-party petitions that are submitted.
Nevada has four petition districts, corresponding to the U.S. Congressional Districts. The 3rd Congressional District is the most populous, with a population of 857,197 as of 2019. All three of the other Congressional Districts have populations below 800,000. Suppose that a minor political party were spectacularly successful in gathering petition signatures and managed to collect them from the entire population of registered voters in the 3rd Congressional District. (For this example, I assume that the proportion of registered voters to the general population is the same in each Congressional District.) The very fact that this minor political party could accomplish such a feat would ironically render it impossible for that party to qualify for ballot access, because the other petition districts simply do not have enough registered voters to match the number of signatures gathered from the 3rd Congressional District in that case.
Moreover, the “equal apportionment” requirement renders it almost effortless for a major party to initiate challenges to petitions submitted by minor parties, simply by counting the signatures from each district and noting any difference whatsoever in the numbers of signatures, even if the difference is literally one signature! Even if the total number of signatures is well above 1 percent of the registered voters statewide, if the number of signatures gathered in one petition district were 10,000, and the number of signatures gathered in another petition district were 10,001, that also, by itself, would be sufficient to technically fall out of compliance with the requirement of “equal apportionment”. Note that the text of the amended NRS 293.1715(2)(c) would not allow any room for deviation from a strictly “equal” apportionment. There is no mention of a possibility for the apportionment to be made “approximately equal” or “reasonably equal” or “equal within a tolerance of X%”; the text would mandate strict equality of petition signatures by district, and it appears to enable major parties to seek to disqualify any minor party’s petition on a technicality. Given that different circulators of petitions are likely to operate in different petition districts, it is virtually certain that different numbers of signatures will be gathered by each team of circulators. This is so because the precise coordination at the level that would be needed to achieve exactly equal numbers of signatures among all four districts and to stop gathering signatures in a perfectly choreographed fashion once such equal numbers were attained, would be essentially impossible to achieve.
While it would be easy for major political parties to challenge a minor party’s petition under these circumstances, the experience would be made more difficult for the Secretary of State’s Office and the judicial system of the State of Nevada, because more challenges could be expected to be initiated than otherwise. Responding to a contested matter always involves an added, indeterminate, potentially immense expenditure which, I reiterate, has no compelling public benefit behind it.
Moving the deadline for petitions to June 1 would both unduly burden minor political parties and expose the State of Nevada to additional costs from potential legal challenges.
Because of the additional coordination required to even attempt to gather petition signatures “equally” by petition district, as contrasted with simply trying to gather as many signatures as possible, one would expect that the petitioning effort would be more time-consuming than previously. However, Section 2 of SB292 reduces the available time for a minor party to comply with the added burdens, thereby further lowering the probability of successfully meeting all of the requirements. This disenfranchises the citizens of Nevada who would like to see more options at the ballot box.
Moreover, the United States District Court for the District of Nevada already struck down an even somewhat less burdensome deadline of June 10; this occurred when the Judge in the case of Lenora B. Fulani et al. v. Cheryl A. Lau, Secretary of State (“Fulani v. Lau” – Case CV-N-92-535-ECR) issued a preliminary injunction on October 1, 1992, to require the State of Nevada to include Lenora Fulani and other independent and minor-party candidates on the ballot despite those candidates not having been able to gather the required number of signatures by June 10 of that year. In issuing the preliminary injunction (which effectively decided the case, since the election took place in November of the same year), the Judge wrote “that plaintiffs have shown likely success on the merits, that the balance of hardships tips in their favor and that they will suffer irreparable injury if their names are not put on the 1992 ballot” (Fulani v. Lau, p. 14). The Judge explained that
The character and magnitude of plaintiffs[‘] injury caused by the June 10 filing deadline shows a burden on their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The deadline burdens the rights of nonmajor parties[‘] candidates by excluding late[-]forming parties and forcing candidates to circulate petitions before most of the voting population has thought about the elections. Although this date is not as early as others which have been struck down as unconstitutional, most other states require the petitions be submitted several months later. Also, no evidence suggests that candidates who lack an established national affiliation are easily able to access the ballot. (Fulani v. Lau, p. 11)
If the United States District Court found that a June 10 petition-filing deadline is burdensome to non-major parties’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, then, logically, a June 1 deadline would be even more burdensome. Such a deadline would indeed serve to thwart any but the most amply funded minor political parties, if those parties choose to begin gathering the signatures extremely early in the year, whereas new minor parties, as well as minor parties that rely largely or exclusively on volunteer efforts and grass-roots organizing, would find themselves hobbled by lack of time. SB292 is seeking to institute in Nevada law a deadline more stringent than the one which the District Court has already overturned. SB292 would also entrench the role of money in politics and cost money to the State in doing so.
If SB292 is enacted with the June 1 deadline, then any number of parties adversely affected by that deadline could file a legal challenge with Fulani v. Lau as a precedent. The State of Nevada could be exposed to the costs of a legal proceeding, along with associated attorneys’ fees. The costs of responding to such a legal challenge are again indeterminate but potentially immense. Comments submitted separately to this Committee by Mr. Richard Winger discuss situations in other States where such early petition deadlines were struck down and those States were left with the expenses of the associated proceedings. To emphasize, this is not an outcome that I would wish for the State to experience in any manner; as a citizen of this State, I, too, would be adversely affected by continued needless expenditures on legal contests at a time when the State needs to devote all available resources to the economic recovery and to the genuine well-being of its residents. This is why I urge this Committee and the Legislature more generally to refrain from proceeding with SB292 and to avert such an outcome.
Senate Bill 292 is bad policy, counterproductive in all respects, and the fiscal burdens and risks it imposes upon the State have no offsetting benefits. Indeed, Senate Bill 292 exacerbates a highly polarized political situation to the detriment even of major-party officeholders.
Senate Bill 292 would achieve the opposite of establishing a fair, level playing field for political candidates and parties. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 292, if enacted, will only serve to exacerbate today’s political trench warfare by solidifying the bifurcation of the contemporary American body politic into two blocs that have each become increasingly monolithic and radicalized internally, and increasingly hostile toward the other, with no room between them to pursue unconventional and innovative solutions that can bridge partisan divides. This anticipated effect of SB292 is likely not anyone’s intention; however, the two-party system in the United States has a built-in downward spiral of incivility, hostility, and division which has, over the past year, crossed the line from mere acrimony into deadly riots and insurrections from extreme exponents of both sides of the partisan gulf. Any Legislator interested in stable and sensible governance should seek to avert an intensification of this scenario, and there is a vital role for a vibrant minor-party ecosystem in helping to prevent it.
How does Senate Bill 292 exacerbate political polarization? It does so by making it effectively impossible for minor political parties to even attain ballot access – in the ways described above. This bill would make it clear to voters that minor parties are not just long-shot participants but are effectively shut out of the process altogether. Thus, many people who would have otherwise given a minor party a chance would be shunted into one of the major political parties that is barely more aligned with their views than the other major political party. This would reinforce the bifurcation of America into two distinct blocs which are engaged in an ever-intensifying struggle with one another, to the detriment of any actual progress on policy and any actual solutions to the many pressing problems (including fiscal problems) facing our State, country, and world. Bifurcation of the American body politic creates an “us-versus-them” dynamic, where anyone who is not part of one’s own bloc is automatically considered to be “the enemy” and whose ideas are automatically disregarded. The record increase in independent and nonpartisan voters already shows many Americans to be disillusioned by the toxicity and acrimony that characterize the electoral tactics of the major parties and their most vocal adherents. Without minor parties for them to seek alternatives in, these Americans will either be reluctantly dragged into the deleterious fray they have always wished to avoid, or try to refrain from political participation altogether – in which case the fray will still find them, as extremists from the major parties have increasingly been demonizing conscientiously apolitical Americans as well.
The antidote to polarization is hyper-pluralism, which is precisely what a vibrant minor-party scene would facilitate. In a hyper-pluralistic body politic, there is no clear “enemy” for any constituent, because different smaller parties will align with one another on different issues; one’s adversary on one issue could be an ally on another, and so it is worthwhile to remain on at least respectful terms with everyone. It is for this reason that parliamentary democracies, which allow for proportional representation and numerous political parties competing on each ballot, are generally far less roiled by partisan strife than America’s uniquely contentious two-party system. But Nevada does not even need to adopt a parliamentary system to achieve a similar outcome; it just needs to allow minor political parties to compete on the ballots. Note that we are not even asking for the minor parties to win (which would still be difficult enough on its own), but merely to be allowed to compete!
Allowing quick, easy ballot access for minor political parties is the low-cost option to the State of Nevada as well. The less time and effort need to be spent validating petition signatures or enforcing restrictions, the more savings result for the State of Nevada.
Even the possibility of competition motivates both incumbent officeholders and major-party candidates to be more responsive to the needs of their constituents. Furthermore, minor parties can be fruitful repositories of ideas for major-party politicians to draw upon; the Transhumanist Party would be delighted to have any of its platform reflected in legislation advanced by major-party lawmakers. Ideas from minor parties tend to sufficiently depart from the prevailing major-party packages that they avoid triggering contentious and mutually intransigent debates about “wedge” issues and so may actually lead to solutions that most major-party policymakers are willing to entertain. Incumbents and major-party candidates can even derive much valuable campaign intelligence from election results involving minor political parties. A strong showing for a minor party indicates a set of issues that voters are interested in and that the incumbent or major-party candidate would do well to address while in office or on the campaign trail. Having a wealth of ideas from minor parties to draw upon will also improve the State of Nevada’s fiscal situation, since minor parties – which, out of necessity, have significant experience running low-budget or no-budget operations – will often develop creative ways to reduce expenditures without compromising the quality of service and benefits that the State provides to its residents.
By shutting minor parties out of viable political participation, Senate Bill 292 would only accomplish the illusion of stability for leading figures of a major political party. In reality, one cannot have a stable or tranquil political experience in a general environment marred by ideological polarization and all of its attendant ills. Depriving people of legitimate alternatives will only alienate them further and feed into the undercurrents of frustration and perceived disenfranchisement that permeate American politics today. Minor political parties are a major safety valve of American politics and can act to effectively channel dissent and discontentment into constructive avenues of mutual improvement and enhanced justice. In the Federalist No. 10, James Madison, at the onset of the American Republic, noted that the advantage of a large representative republic is precisely in “the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties, against the event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest”. The American Founders, who feared precisely the scenario of two dominant factions vying for power at the citizens’ and the Republic’s expense, saw the “greater variety of parties” as an important safeguard against such an outcome. The Transhumanist Party echoes the Founders’ wisdom and would urge the Legislature to consider reforms in the opposite direction from those proposed in SB292 – namely, the elimination of all ballot-access requirements and the ability of any candidate or political party to compete fairly for office on the same terms as any other. After all, if a minor-party candidate is unpersuasive to the voters and the major-party candidates remain more popular, what is there truly for a major party to fear from allowing participation for all? But in the absence of such truly progressive reforms, we urge that the Legislature at least refrain from taking steps that would further limit electoral competition.
Removing ballot-access restrictions, rather than maximizing them, is the fiscally prudent, the consequentially best, and the morally just option. Please reject Senate Bill 292.
Mr. Gennady Stolyarov II
Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party
Chief Executive, Nevada Transhumanist Party