After bitter 2016 cycle, Nevada Democrats overhaul caucus process to build a bigger tent
Three years after a raucous state Democratic convention resulted in death threats against the party’s chair and cut deep wounds within the party, Nevada Democrats are hoping for smooth sailing with their first-in-the-West presidential caucus in 2020.
The Nevada State Democratic Party plans to officially release its 2020 delegate selection plan on Wednesday, including a host of changes that party officials hope will not only prevent the divisiveness of the last presidential election cycle but further expand the party to include more Democrats than ever before.
Although some of the biggest changes — namely, early voting and virtual caucusing — are a byproduct of mandates from national Democrats, other Nevada-specific changes are focused on tapping into the state’s increasingly diverse electorate and changing rules that led to intra-party fighting over delegates at a 2016 convention security eventually had to shut down.
“The Nevada State Democratic Party is creating a uniquely Nevada caucus process — one that reflects how Nevadans vote and the communities we live in,” Assemblyman Will McCurdy, the party’s chair, said in a statement.
One of those “uniquely Nevada” changes includes, for the first time, offering presidential preference cards not only in English and Spanish but a third language, Tagalog. The change is aimed at bringing Nevada’s rapidly growing Asian American and Pacific Islander community — which now comprises about 10 percent of the state’s population and is largely Filipino — into the fold.
Another major change will allow Nevada Democrats to early vote in the caucus. While Iowa made waves last year after Democrats there announced that their first-in-the-nation presidential caucus would allow absentee ballots, early voting is the more popular practice among Nevadans. In Nevada’s 2018 midterm election, only 84,000 cast absentee ballots, while more than 550,000 voted early, nearly 57 percent of total ballots cast.
Come 2020, Nevada Democrats will be able to cast in-person ballots during a four-day early voting period, the Saturday through Tuesday before the Feb. 22 caucus the following Saturday. The party has until Oct. 1 to establish where those early voting locations will be and what hours they will be open, though Alana Mounce, the party’s executive director, said that familiar early voting locations will be on the list the party chooses from.
Some of the most popular early vote locations in Southern Nevada include malls and shopping centers, such as the Galleria at Sunset and Centennial Center, and grocery stores, including Cardenas Market in east Las Vegas.
“We want to find locations that reflect where Nevadans vote and the communities they live in across the state,” Mounce said.
At the early voting sites, caucus goers will be able to fill out a presidential preference card indicating their first-choice candidate and any other backup choices. Those preferences will then be securely transmitted to the individual’s assigned caucus precinct for tabulation the day of the caucus with all other same-day caucus goers.
The state will also allow virtual caucusing in 2020. The two-day virtual caucuses will be held the Sunday and Monday before the caucus, though it is unclear yet whether caucus goers will participate via website or app. Mounce said the party is “exploring all options.”
“We are still determining what that process will look like,” Mounce said. “We will send out an RFP, request for proposals, to various vendors to make sure that that process meets the level of criteria that is outlined in the plan.”
As with early voting, presidential preferences submitted virtually will be transmitted to caucus goers’ assigned precincts for tabulation on the day of the caucus.
The party is also planning to continue its tradition of offering same-day voter registration on caucus day and will extend it to the early voting process. Voters looking to participate in the virtual caucus will be required to be registered with the Democratic Party by Nov. 30 and must pre-register for the virtual caucus between Jan. 1 and Jan. 15.
As in the past, Democrats will continue to offer two ways to participate in-person on caucus day, either at an assigned precinct or at one of the at-large caucuses on the Strip targeted at casino employees who can’t make it home to caucus while on shift. Those who choose to participate in either early voting or the virtual caucus will not be allowed to participate in person on caucus day.
For the first time ever, the party will also release raw vote totals after the caucus instead of just delegate totals, a move that officials say will increase transparency and better facilitate any recounts or recanvasses requested by a presidential candidate.
“One of the reasons why we’re doing this is because we do want to create a process that’s open and transparent for caucus goers, we also want to be able to do a recount or recanvass if a presidential candidate would like to request one,” Mounce said. “So we think this overall helps make sure that it’s more open, expansive and transparent.”
In total, Nevada Democrats will be responsible for selecting 48 delegates out of the caucus-to-convention process to send to represent the state at the Democratic National Convention. That total includes 36 pledged delegates — 23 district-level delegates; five pledged party leaders and elected officials, or PLEOs; and eight at-large delegates — and 12 superdelegates.
Previously, only district-level delegates were apportioned based on the results of the caucus, while PLEOs and at-large delegates were divvied up based on the number of delegates representing each candidate that showed up to the state convention, a process that resulted in bitter divisions in 2016.
Though former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the Nevada Democratic caucus, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign turned out a higher percentage of delegates to the county conventions, allowing Sanders to send more delegates to the state convention than Clinton, thus potentially overriding her victory on caucus day.
Despite that, Clinton’s team ended up turning out slightly more delegates to the state convention than Sanders’ did, scoring her campaign seven of the 12 delegates up for grabs that day. Had Sanders turned out more delegates that day, he may have been able to wrest a majority of the delegates allocated out of the state convention.
The new delegate selection plan, party officials said, will lock in not only the district-level delegates based on the caucus-level apportionment but the PLEOs and at large delegates, too. Mounce said the change will allow the county and state conventions to “continue to be building blocks in our march to the general election in 2020.”
The convention battles struck a deep rift between the Clinton and Sanders camps in Nevada that stretched all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Sanders supporters alleged that the state party was biased toward Clinton, anger that bubbled up in the form of thousands of death threats, threats of violence and misogynistic insults directed at the party’s then-Chairwoman Roberta Lange after the state convention.
In the wake of the 2016 election, the state party created a Caucus to Convention Committee that developed recommendations to improve the presidential nominating process moving forward. Since then, the party has also gained a new chair, McCurdy, and executive director, Mounce.
“I think that, looking back at 2016, we’ve done a lot of work to bring our party together,” Mounce said. “Our previous chair [didn't run for re-election], we elected a new chair who is young, diverse, and then I also started at the state party. To our chairman’s credit, I think he’s done a tremendous job listening and traveling around the state to get feedback and lessons learned.”
Mounce also said that the party is ensuring that it is “fair and consistent” in the communications it has with individual presidential candidates and that everything sent to one campaign is shared with all other campaigns as well.
“I think it’s a refocus and a recommitment to communication at a high level and working closely with presidential campaigns to make sure the state party provides the most successful, open, fair, transparent process for them, their candidates and Nevada voters,” Mounce said.
The party will begin to solicit public comments on its delegate selection plan on Wednesday and will incorporate any feedback received in the 30-day period before the state party committee adopts the final proposal at the end of April. All feedback will additionally be forwarded as part of the proposal the party sends to the Democratic National Committee in early May.
“Carrying over the spirit of what we started in 2017 with our Caucus to Convention Committee, I think that’s part of answering questions from our Democratic community,” Mounce said, “and I think making sure that we are incorporating their feedback where it makes sense into our plan.”
Updated 3-19-19 at 7:15 p.m. to clarify that former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange did not resign but rather opted not to run for re-election in 2017.