Nevada is in the national spotlight for the presidential race now New Hampshire voters have spoken. It’s a bit more complicated in Nevada, a presidential caucus state. Democrats will gather on Saturday, Feb. 20 by 11 a.m.; Republicans on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 5 p.m.
Before I moved to Nevada in 1980, I was a non-partisan or Independent. I registered as a Democrat here because it’s a more effective way to influence the candidate selection process, and the differences between the parties were stark. Some states allow non-partisans to participate in primaries and caucuses without being registered in a party. Not Nevada. We have a “closed” process, which favors party loyalists. The only way a Nevada non-partisan can participate in the presidential caucus is to re-register as a Republican or Democrat. (Fine print alert: deadlines differ depending on the party).
Nevada’s history with presidential primaries and caucuses is mixed. The cost of a special primary election for president has been a deterrent. Elections are costly for state and local governments; caucus expenses are mostly borne by the parties. Timing has also been an issue. A later caucus or primary would render Nevada’s process nearly irrelevant. The current “first in the West” caucus is intended to put candidates on the spot about western concerns such as water, public lands, and nuclear waste.
As a fledgling Democrat, I learned the complicated details of caucusing at the precinct, county and state levels. For Democrats, the caucus process involves gathering by precinct to express presidential preference and select delegates to the county convention. Republicans conduct a presidential preference vote at their caucuses to divvy up the delegates. While county and state party conventions filter the selections, the caucus results from Nevada are of national interest because both the Republican and Democratic contests are so competitive.
Consider this analogy: With early voting and efficient electronic voting machines, voting is civic fast food. In, out, gulp, done. Caucusing — Democrat style — is like a Basque family-style dinner. There’s a process, discussion, and a bit of chaos. Caucusing takes time.
It’s time well spent. In the Wild West, this is as close as we come to the New England town meeting with face-to-face discussions and frank exchange of views with neighbors about the candidates and issues of the day.
To registered Democrats: Yes, participation does make a difference. With Gov. O’Malley out of the race, the process to determine Bernie or Hillary is simplified. Not simple, but simplified. For more information: carsoncitydems.org/caucus/.
To Independents: If your heart is with the Democrats, you can register as a Democrat the day of the caucus and participate.
To Republicans: Your caucus is the night of Feb. 23. For more information: nevada-gopcaucus.org/. Good luck.
Participating in the Democratic caucus is mostly a matter of expectations. If you’re expecting grab-and-go civic engagement, you’ll be frustrated and disappointed. Instead, anticipate the caucus process takes time, and enjoy the experience of making history where you live. And remember Will Rogers’ words are as true today as ever: “I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.”
Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.