On Wednesday, the Nevada State Democratic Party released its plan outlining changes to Nevada’s caucus process in an effort to increase participation and rebuild trust with voters after the contentious presidential primaries in 2016.
“We all know how important Nevada’s First in the West caucus will be in 2020 and we are confident that we will elect a nominee who will beat Donald Trump in the general,” said Nevada State Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy.
The state party’s proposed 2020 Delegate Selection Plan will include in-person early voting and offer several methods for absentee voters to participate, which the party hopes will make the process more accessible and open.
While continuing popular voting traditions like hosting caucuses locations on the Las Vegas Strip and bilingual preference cards, the state party will also expand voting options and publish preference cards in Tagalog.
As part of the new plan, the party will add four days of in-person early voting, and two days to participate in a “virtual caucus” for people unable to attend on Caucus Day. Early voting and the virtual caucuses are both open to all registered Democrats.
The logistics of the virtual caucus are a work in progress, but participation will require pre-registration for security and voter identification.
“We’re still a year out from it so we’re still working through what that’s going to be and we’ll be updating you as more details become available,” McCurdy said.
Those who opt to take advantage of early voting in the caucus will be able to complete their presidential preference card at as yet undermined locations and leave as soon as they finish. They will be also be allowed to register as a Democrat that same day if they are not already.
When former Sen. Harry Reid and Nevada Democrats secured the state’s early spot on the nominating calendar more than a decade ago, one of the goals was to use to the caucus as a means of boosting party registration.
Bilingual preference cards will now include Tagalog “to accommodate our growing AAPI community,” McCurdy said. The party, which administers the caucus, will also set up more caucus locations in diverse neighborhoods across the state as part of the new caucus plan.
The perception of abuse, corruption, and inefficiency surrounding party-run caucuses can run deep, especially after Nevada’s 2016 caucus and the chaos of the ensuing state party convention, which made national headlines. The party’s plan to increase transparency calls for the public release of raw vote totals per candidate on Caucus Day and establishing a process to execute a recount or recanvass if necessary.
Additionally, all pledged delegates will be final on Caucus Day and will no longer be negotiable at the county or state conventions.
The caucus plan came largely in response to the Democratic National Committee’s proposed reforms to the party’s presidential nomination process, which were made in an effort to grow the party, increase participation, and rebuild trust with voters after the contentious presidential primaries in 2016.
While the DNC recommended states switch from caucuses to government-run primary elections to pick the party’s presidential nominee, the DNC reforms also directed states that chose to stick with caucuses to provide absentee voting and written votes to allow for a recount if needed.
Since Nevada’s caucuses were awarded an early spot in the presidential election calendar in the 2008 cycle, party officials have hyped the event as giving the West a greater voice in the process. The excitement over that 2008 caucus is also often credited for building the party, boosting its registration, and playing an important role in former Democratic Senator Harry Reid’s reelection in 2010 despite the Tea Party wave that washed over much of the nation that year.
“Our position in the calendar is very important and we take it very seriously,” said Artie Blanco, Nevada DNC Member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee in an interview last last year. “Of all the early states we are the most diverse and I think it’s really important that candidates are exposed to a diverse voting population and hear them out on issues of concern.”
Overall turnout for Nevada caucuses is abysmal compared to traditional elections. The 2016 presidential caucus attracted 84,000 Democrats statewide. By contrast, in last June’s primary election, 146,677 Democrats turned out to vote for state and local candidates.
Nationally, states with caucuses have the lowest voter participation, according to data gathered by Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics. In the eight states where both parties have used caucuses instead of primaries, just 11.3 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2016, compared to 36.1 percent of voters who participated in states with primaries.
The Nevada State Democratic Party hired Shelby Wiltz, the Organizing Director for the State Party’s Coordinated Campaign in 2018, as the 2020 Caucus Director this month party officials said is unusually early.
“I think bringing on Shelby as early as we did is an additional commitment to make sure this process is open and transparent heading into 2020,” said Alana Mounce, state party executive director.
Feedback and public comment on the new caucus plan will be accepted online and submitted to the Democratic National Committee on May 3, 2019.