The Nevada Caucus
by Yvette Williams
“The Nevada constitution was framed by a convention of delegates chosen by the people. The convention met at Carson City on July 4, 1864, and adjourned on July 28 of the same year. On the 1st Wednesday of September 1864, the constitution was approved by the vote of the people of the Territory of Nevada, and on October 31, 1864, President Lincoln proclaimed that the State of Nevada was admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.” – From an introduction to the Constitution of the State of Nevada
Today, Nevadans still participate in conventions where they elect delegates to represent them in presidential elections. In 2012, as they do every four years, both the Democratic and Republican parties begin the process of determining who their candidate will be for the presidency of the United States by convening members of the same political party. This is called a caucus.
Although Nevadans have long held caucuses as part of the presidential nominating process, it was in 2008 that the state became a focal point with its new designation as an “early state” caucus. Both parties wanted a system that allowed each of the four regions of the United States – Midwest, Northeast, South and West to be represented early in the presidential election process. With the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who helped cast a national spotlight on the state’s growing and increasingly diverse population, Nevada was selected as an ideal choice to represent the West in early balloting. The results from that early caucus can influence the electorate in other states, and provides a reliable indicator of the level of support that candidates can expect in subsequent elections held in neighboring states.
Under Nevada’s system, the candidate selection process begins with a precinct caucus, followed by a county convention. It concludes with dual state conventions, during which both parties ultimately select presidential nominees. In this process, the old adage that “every vote counts” is put to the ultimate test: Candidates who win the most votes during precinct caucuses and county conventions could ultimately lose at state conventions if their delegates don’t show up and vote. In 2008, the grassroots movement behind Barack Obama rallied support in Carson City to ultimately win the state convention, with 14 delegates to Hillary Clinton’s 11.
Below, the 2008 results:
Nevada Democratic Precinct Caucuses
Hillary Clinton: 5,459 delegates (50.82%)
Barack Obama: 4,844 delegates (45.09%)
John Edwards: 399 delegates (3.71%)
Dennis Kucinich: 5 delegates (0.05%)
Nevada Democratic County Conventions
Hillary Clinton: 1,718 delegates (51.09%)
Barack Obama: 1,645 delegates (48.91%)
Nevada Democratic State Convention
Barack Obama: 1,365 Delegates (55.04%)
Hillary Clinton: 1,112 Delegates (44.84%)
This year, the Nevada Democratic Party will host precinct caucuses on Jan. 21, with the Republican Party following suit on Feb. 4. Registered Nevada voters can participate, but only within their stated party affiliation.
Same-day registration is available to those seeking to participate in the Nevada Democratic Party Caucus. Although some rules may vary depending on party affiliation, the voting process is very similar. Precinct voting is a very informal proceeding, in which neighbors living in the same precinct gather to discuss and vote for the candidates of their choice.
Neighbors divide into preference groups for each candidate; a simple head count is taken, and candidates can remain viable with a minimum of 15 percent support among caucus participants. If a candidate’s preference group is not viable, they can choose to caucus with another group (in other words, pick another candidate) or choose to remain uncommitted. There is time allotted for each viable candidate’s group to try to convince supporters of non viable candidates to switch allegiances. Each precinct then elects a minimum of one representative (delegate) to move on to the county convention. Representatives are based on the number of registered voters in a given precinct. Those delegates should remain mindful that their neighbors are counting on their representation, within the party affiliation, at the county convention.
This process repeats itself at the county convention, with delegates again selected from among groups representing candidates. However, at this level, delegates are required to file their intention on a statement form at the designated time of support for their chosen candidate. In some cases, the candidate originally chosen may have already exited the race, which allows their delegates to change their vote. This process repeats itself, again, at the state convention for the Democratic Party, where delegates are chosen to represent the state at the Democratic National Convention. In contrast, there is no formal system of allocating delegates to presidential candidates at the state convention for the Republican Party.
At all of these steps in the process, caucus participants and convention delegates will hear speeches and discuss party business.
One of the most important matters to be discussed is the party platform, a list of actions supported in order to appeal to the general public or be shaped into policy. This often takes the form of a list of support for, or opposition to, socially relevant, urgent, controversial, or complex topics or issues. These opinions are often called the “planks” of the platform, in reference to a basic stage built out of wooden boards. The platform of the Democratic Party is determined by county parties throughout the United States, with each appointing a platform committee comprised of local members. All registered Democrats have the opportunity to submit ideas about what the party should stand for; submission forms are available during both the precinct caucus and county convention.
For more information or to register to vote online, go to http://www.clarkcountynv.gov/vote
For more information on the Nevada Democratic Caucus, go to http://pledgetocaucus.com/
For more information on the Nevada Republican Caucus, go to http://www.nevadagop.org/events