Fear & Loathing: Yes, Nevada Is A Caucus

What you need to know going into today:  Nevada is a caucus state, but different from Iowa.  Every state is different, of course, but Nevada is very different.  And I’m not just talking about the prostitution laws, although that does hit politicians very close to home; no, they do everything differently here in the Sagebrush State.

To begin with, it’s a closed caucus; only registered party members can vote.  Which would matter more, except a person can both register and change their party affiliation at any site (and there’s no Republican event this year; that may have an impact).  In-person voter fraud has occurred here in Nevada; to combat that, there is presently a requirement in place for physical voter identification — which can include a card mailed to the voter by request (this won’t help much on Caucus Day).

Precinct caucuses must be attended in person; to facilitate casino workers on the Strip, there’s remote facilities for their use.  People show up at 10AM and the caucusing begins at noon precisely.  So far so good, but here’s where things start to get a bit strange.

Each local precinct has a certain number of allocated delegates to the county conventions, whether 2, 3, or 4.  Viability percentages vary based on these numbers, from 15% to 25% of attendees.  It’s therefore possible for a 2-delegate precinct to have three viable factions and so on; each will be entitled to elect its delegate, and even having a hefty majority won’t protect a candidate from being reduced to a single representative.  Thus, a 2-delegate precinct that goes 50% Sanders, 25% Gabbard, and 25% Steyer (for example) will award one delegate to each of the three.  Delegates will be expected to assemble at county conventions in April to elect from their number representatives to go to Milwaukee in July.

In Iowa, non-viable preference groups were allowed to band together in order to back compromise candidates during the second round; not so in Nevada.  Here, they either work out their deals before the first round or they have to support someone already deemed viable.  Early voters are given three options, and the totals are worked out by caucus workers.  As a result, lesser candidates will often be eliminated at the local level.

As with any caucus, there’s less danger of ballot-box stuffing than with errors or outright malfeasance by precinct captains.  In 2016 there was actual violence over this; I’ve seen solid reports that it was started by Sanders supporters in one area and Clinton backers in another.  To protect the reputation of The Party this year, caucus workers have been asked to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements, each including a non-disparagement clause that’s pretty broad.  (I’d have invested in security, but then I’m not a high-ranking Democratic Party official.  No doubt they know best…)

Fears over a repeat of the Iowa debacle have led Party organizers to replace the Shadow Inc. app with a well-tested one from Cisco; they’ll be reporting using shared Google Docs.  The vast number of early voters combined with limited staff, however, is a strong indicator that much of the results will be outside the view of those who physically attend local caucuses; remote Strip sites likewise insulate the total from the voter.  All of this plus memories of last cycle’s cheating suggest there’s likely to be some unpleasantness at one or more precincts, and there’s nothing to be done about it.

It’s also worth mentioning that, as there’s no write-ins allowed here and he failed to register in time, Bloomberg was present at the debates but has no chance whatsoever to compete.  He’ll get nothing at all.  The other candidates will need to surpass 15% of the popular vote to get any, and they’ll be awarded proportionately from there on up.

There’s been precious little polling done in Nevada, no doubt to keep the numbers on the debate stage low.  As a result, uncertainty is extreme.  However:

  • Elizabeth Warren had a strong debate performance.  Informal polling suggests she’ll do extremely well; she’d been running a close third earlier in the week, but that’s not a reliable number.  Still, there’s a real chance she’ll take the state; she’s held a number of events, always in districts where she’s popular; that strategy may work well.
  • Bernie Sanders has an army of enthusiastic volunteers, and he’s already very well known in Nevada from last cycle.  His campaign is well-funded and brilliantly staffed, and he’s been polling especially high here.  Nate Silver thinks he’ll win the state; I’m not so sure, but Nate’s pretty smart.
  • Klobuchar, Steyer, and Gabbard have spent comparatively little time here; Steyer is pinning his hopes on South Carolina and Klobuchar hasn’t had the funds.  However, Gabbard is worth mentioning as a test case for identity politics:  Nevada has just added Tagalog as a third language on its polling documents due to the large number of Pacific islanders resident in the state.  If like indeed supports like, Tulsi may do surprisingly well here.
  • The polling supports Biden.  However, the polling is in large part either unreliable (landlines or web-based) or pre-dates Iowa.  FiveThirtyEight has Biden doing well with a chance at winning the state, but here I’m compelled to disagree; Biden’s done and Nevada knows it.
  • Buttigieg‘s campaign here is a wonder to me, and his performance is nothing I’d venture to predict.  He’s completely eliminated small groups in favor of huge halls; Las Vegas residents are more comfortable with that than others.  On the other hand, he’s had very little presence in the north and center of the state in consequence.  I don’t think he’s got a real chance at winning, but I’d wager he’ll do fairly well purely based on momentum.

Whatever happens, there’s one thing we can be certain of:  Nevada will give us a surprise by day’s end — one way or another.


Rather than gambling your money at PredictIt, you might consider investing in a sure thing:  The Not Fake News.  So long as we keep getting donations, I’ll keep writing.

And donations have been pretty darn slow.  Just sayin’.

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