In about a month, both Republicans and Democrats statewide will meet to begin the process of selecting their presidential nominees.
Since Nevada doesn’t include the race for president in its June primary, both parties use the caucus system beginning with precinct caucuses. The Democrats are first, opening for business at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20. Carson Party Chair Marty McGarry said they will go until they are done.
The Republicans will caucus on Tuesday, Feb. 23 beginning at 5 p.m. and ending at 9 p.m.
WHAT IS A CAUCUS
To many, the caucus system is confusing and can be frustrating. It’s significantly more complicated since each party sets its own rules using just general guidelines in statute. But there are important differences between how the two parties do things.
A caucus is probably best described as a gathering of fellow party members to discuss politics and select delegates to the county conventions. They also will discuss issues to include in their respective party platforms.
Typically, they are held in multiple locations at area schools, community centers and even churches. Voters are invited to attend the meeting for their specific precinct, which they can figure out online or by looking on their voter registration card. In Carson City this year, there are two locations for Republican caucuses and four for the Democrats.
After attendees sign in, there are some formalities including local party business such as the election of central committee members. Then, those in attendance break into groups representing the different candidates.
HOW DELEGATES ARE SELECTED
At this point, things start to get a bit more complicated.
First, by state law, each precinct at the caucus gets one delegate for every 50 voters registered with their political party. If Democrats have 150 registered voters in a precinct, that precinct picks three delegates to their county convention.
If Republicans have 200 registered in a precinct, that precinct’s caucus gets four delegates to the GOP county convention.
The Democrats assign their caucus delegates to the presidential candidates proportionally according to their support at the caucus. Supporters of candidates who can’t raise enough backers to qualify for a delegate can then shift their allegiance to another candidate. But McGarry said those people also could unite and form a group of “undeclared” delegates.
That process means there are a large number of delegates chosen for the county conventions. Those delegates pick state convention delegates and, importantly, they can change their mind on who to vote for. They then pick Nevada’s 43 Democratic delegates to the national convention and those delegates are bound to vote for the person they represent — on the first national convention ballot. After that, they can change their mind.
The Republicans do it differently. They conduct a presidential preference vote at their caucuses to apportion their 30 national convention delegates among the different candidates.
Each county’s vote results are put together by the state party to determine who gets how many of those slots.
County convention delegates are chosen independently of that preference vote and, again, there are many more of them than the party finally chooses to send to the national convention. But, if a candidate gets 55 percent of the caucus vote, that candidate gets 55 percent of the delegates all the way through the process to the national convention.
That rule applies on the first ballot. After the first ballot, they, like the Democrats, are free to change their mind.
Because they are “bound” only on the first ballot and because national delegates must have participated in the caucuses, county and state conventions, Republican Party activist Carol Howell says it’s important not only to attend the caucus and vote but to participate in picking delegates.
“It’s important that people, especially strong supporters, start at the precinct meetings and go through the county and state to the national convention,” Howell said.
Otherwise, she said, small factions representing less popular candidates may lock up a disproportionate number of delegates early on. That’s what happened to the Nevada GOP in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles when delegates weren’t bound to their stated candidate at the county or state level.
Another difference is while people can register as a Democrat on the day of the caucuses, Republicans must have been registered with the party at least 10 days before the caucuses. Both parties allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 before election day to participate in the caucuses and conventions.
Democrats also have a system of rules designed to ensure diversity among their delegates ranging from gender and gender identity to ethnicity, disability and age. The GOP doesn’t have those requirements.
Both parties provide a way for military members and families who can’t attend to caucus. Democrats also allow shift workers unable to attend to do so.
Democrats have set their county conventions for April 2. The Republicans will hold theirs April 9.
Both parties plan their state conventions for May 14-15.