Bill would abolish Nevada caucus for early primary

Nevada would abolish its caucus system and revert to a primary election for choosing a presidential preference under a bill introduced Monday in the Nevada Senate.

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, a prime sponsor of Senate Bill 212, said a main goal of the bill is to allow military personnel serving overseas an opportunity to participate in the presidential nomination process.

In a caucus, Republicans and Democrats gather at specific sites on one particular day to choose who they want to see on the presidential ticket. There is no early voting or absentee ballots. Last year, Nevada Republicans held their caucus on Feb. 4; Democrats on Jan. 21.

"This just didn't work," said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Under the bill, the primary election would be held the second-to-last Tuesday in January, and apply not only to presidential races but state races as well. If the law had been in place last year, Nevada's primary would have been held Jan. 24, instead of June 12.

Many voters in Nevada think the caucus system for choosing a presidential preference is confusing and alienates those who can't attend time-specific caucus meetings.

"In a presidential year, I myself find it very problematic," Settelmeyer said, adding that people overseas or serving in the military are especially affected. "The caucus system we have does not facilitate that in Nevada."

The last presidential primary in Nevada was held in 1996. Because of high costs and low turnout, Nevada then moved to a caucus system with voting in March.

Nevada gained national prominence in presidential politics in 2008 when U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., convinced Nevada Democrats to move the voting to January that year. Reid wanted to make candidates pay greater attention to issues facing his home state and the West as part of a larger Democratic strategy to capture swing states.

One provision of SB212 seeks to protect Nevada's status in the presidential political arena, allowing the secretary of state to move the primary election up to as early as Jan. 2 if necessary to preserve the state's first-in-the-West poll position.

Settelmeyer and Cegavske said the bill also addresses the cost issue by moving the state's entire primary election to January, avoiding the additional cost of separate presidential and state nominating ballots.

But it would also mean a long, drawn-out election season - beginning before Halloween the year before a general election takes place.

The two-week candidate filing period would begin the first Monday in October. For judicial candidates, it would start even earlier - in August.

Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, last year sponsored a bill that would have shortened Nevada's campaign season by pushing the state primary to September from June. Hickey on Monday said he will not reintroduce his bill, given the underwhelming reception it received last session.


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