Sunday, February 23, 2020

My Participation in the 2020 Nevada Caucuses

(If readers want to cut to the chase they can scroll down to "The Experience" to skip the background.)

My wife and I became a permanent residents of Nevada, the Silver State, in November 2019 and registered to vote in December when we got our driver's licenses and Nevada plates.

When I learned that Nevada was a "caucus state" I was curious as to how the caucuses worked because I ALWAYS vote in primary and general elections. I am at this time an Elizabeth Warren supporter, so I figured the best way to find out about the caucus process was to go to her local office and ask how it all works.

Warren's Carson City headquarters is about a mile from where we live, so I dropped in and met (ironically) Carson Pope, a 20-something young man, who was the sole Carson City rep for the Warren campaign. He explained the caucus system to me, and after I mentioned that I had worked on congressional campaigns in California encouraged me to not only participate in the caucus but to be a "Caucus Captain" in my precinct for Warren. I said I would consider it and eventually agreed.

To prepare for the event there were several online training sessions about how to talk to and persuade undecided voters, but most importantly, how to do the math when it came to the most important part of the process: divvying up the delegates. We got T-shirts and Caucus Captain buttons, signs and "lit" to pass out. Also some Thunder Sticks to easily identify the Warren contingent in a room full of voters.

So rather than explain the process first, I'll just describe the experience so that it's not "theoretical". As a side note, Carson City, the capital of Nevada, is also its own county.

The Experience

For the first time in 2020 Nevada allowed for early voting in the week before the Saturday caucus. Voters go to a central location in Carson City regardless of precinct and vote by ballot for a first, second, and third choice. This comes into play later in the process. My wife voted early, but I did not since I was going to participate in the actual caucus.

The caucus site for my precinct, 201, and four other nearby precincts was an alternative high school in the neighborhood. There was one other Warren captain reporting with me at 8:00 outside the site. We actually got a "wake up" text at 7:15 from the campaign. A process to report by text was set up so that we could give feed back on voter numbers, vibe, results, etc. The DNC people were doing set up inside the school while captains for all the campaigns gathered outside in the cold waiting to be let in at 10:00. All the campaigns were friendly, but it was obvious that the Sanders campaign was "flooding the zone".

At 10:00 campaign people and the public were let in to sign in and were directed to the areas set up for their specific precinct caucus. Mine was in a gym with three other precincts, and there was a lot of echo.

How The Caucus Works

The point of the Nevada Caucuses is to designate delegates to go to the County, State, and eventually the DNC Convention in the Summer. Each precinct is allocated a number of delegates based on the number of precinct voters registered in the Democratic Party. There are 456 Democratic voters in my 201 precinct, and that equates to nine delegates to be allocated. To be able to get ANY delegates a candidate must be "viable" which means they need the votes of a certain percentage of the total votes cast both in early voting and in-person at the caucus. For nine delegates the viability threshold is 15% of the total votes. Precinct 201 had 67 early voters and 34 in-person voters for a total of 101 total voters, which means the viability threshold in our precinct was 16 votes (rounding up because we are talking whole people). In other words, in order to be viable and get allocated any delegates, at least 16 early votes and in-person votes had to be for our candidate, Elizabeth Warren. (It is disturbing that only 101 out of 456 registered Democratic voters in my precinct participated.)

Our in-person group was 6 people, and we were notified that Warren got another 6 early votes for a total of 12 votes. This did not meet viability. This first round is called the "first alignment". Only Sanders and Buttigieg were viable after the first alignment. Klobuchar, Biden, Warren, Steyer, and Yang were not. So now what happens?

There is a brief period between the first and second alignments where advocates for candidates can walk around and try to convince the voters supporting other candidates to consolidate with their candidate in order to reach viability. There were a lot of Bernie and Mayor Pete people present, clearly more than for other candidates. Prior to the beginning of the caucus I had scoped out people who were not wearing Bernie or Pete gear to find out who they were supporting and if they were amenable to choosing Warren as their second choice if it came to that. So when it turned out that none of their candidates were viable I went directly to them to see if they would join the Warren group. Steyer had the same number of votes as Warren, but I was able to convince them to join us without much trouble. In the end I was able to convince 5 more people to join the 6 of us for a total of 11 in-person votes Warren.

Then the caucus chair goes to a notepad and finds out who among early voters selected Warren as their second choice. This ended up adding 6 more votes to our 11 in-person votes for a combined 17 votes. Viability! (I should note that the FIRST 6 Warren first choice early votes were cast aside and only the second choice votes counted, although the number ended up being the same.)

After this second alignment Sanders, Buttigieg, and Warren were the only candidates viable. All other voters had joined with one of these candidates with the exception of the single Yang voter who simply remained uncommitted. So the next step was to allocate the 9 precinct delegates among the remaining 3 viable candidates. This is simply done as a percentage of the total votes times the 9 delegates. So for Warren it was 17 divided by 101 times 9 or 1.51. People are rounded up so this ended up with 2 delegates for Warren.

An interesting side note is that there are rules for how delegates are allocated if the formula allocations result in one too many or one too few total delegates (10 or 8) due to rounding. I won't bore you with the particulars, but it is amusing to note that there was a deck of cards on each precinct table so that any ties were resolved by cutting cards. I heard that happened in at least one precinct in Las Vegas.

The last thing to do was register as a delegate for Warren at the Carson City county convention. I did. We'll see what happens after that.

All-in-all this was a fascinating and pleasant experience. I even met my backyard neighbor who had a particular Warren sign in her window. That ended up with us bagging some Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies from her daughter.


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