Nevada lawmakers are considering dumping their caucus system and replacing it with a primary to choose presidential nominees, a proposal that could upend the 2016 Republican presidential contest.
Republican legislators have proposed switching the caucus to a primary scheduled on the last Tuesday in February, which would preserve Nevada’s influential position as one of the earliest states to nominate a presidential candidate. But in shifting to a primary it would change the selection process from a gathering of party activists that is seen to give an upper hand to candidates with motivated followers to a regular election among all GOP voters.
State Sen. James Settelmeyer, one of the sponsors of the bill, said it is in response to problems after the 2012 presidential caucuses. He said he was contacted by constituents who felt intimidated by the caucus setting, where other members can see your vote. Constituents “didn’t feel they had the ability to speak freely or felt intimidated by the process,” Settelmeyer said. Voting “is a private thing, and I don’t believe the caucus is private,” he said.
The prospects of the bill, SB 421, are unclear. Some Republicans favor the caucus system, arguing it gives a voice to the most passionate. But others have complained it gives an edge to otherwise marginal candidates whose supporters can take over the gatherings. The system is believed to favor U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, whose backers have influential positions in many branches of the Nevada Republican Party, in 2016.
“The main benefit of the primary to the caucus is we get a larger number of people to participate,” said Nick Phillips, political director of the Clark County Republican Party. “The main benefit to the caucus is the ability for people to exchange ideas and learn about how to get more involved in the party.”
Democrats, who are in the minority in the state Legislature but whose votes may be needed to pass the measure, say they are unsure the switch can be executed by next year.