Nevada is the first in the West in the presidential election process, but unlike other states, the Silver State uses a caucus system -- not a primary.
That process was heavily criticized during the 2016 election when Bernie Sanders supporters felt the party stacked the deck against them in favor of Hillary Clinton. People were also unhappy about long lines to cast a ballot and the confusion about the caucus worked.
Sondra Cosgrove, a professor of social sciences at the College of Southern Nevada, said the problem with caucuses is -- unlike regular primary and general elections, where people are allowed to vote early for weeks in advance and do so anywhere they would like -- they take place on one day, at one location for a specific time period.
"That is the opposite of what we are used to," she said. "If you are working, if you are disabled, if you have small children -- for any reason you can't get there one day, one time, for three hours, you are shut out."
Cosgrove would like to see a primary in Nevada for a number of reasons.
Besides improving accessibility, she said a primary is ruled by state law, not party rules, which means the Secretary of State office and the registrar of voters take control of the process to ensure it runs smoothly.
"Another problem with the caucus system is if you live in a precinct where the party has not been able to get volunteers... then you are in trouble and there is no way for you to get redress on that because it is not under state law," she said.
The party is hoping to address some of those issues with big changes to the caucus system in 2020 -- the biggest being the incorporation of phone voting, said Shelby Wiltz, the director of 2020 Caucus for the Nevada Democrats.
"All you need to participate is a cellphone or a landline," she said. "Folks will have the ability to call in and caucus from the comfort of their own home on February 16 or February 17."
The phone system will allow voters to choose a language option, cast a ballot, review it before sending and check that it was submitted. The votes will be checked against party voter rolls to make sure those who voted are registered Democrats.
Wiltz also said the security of the system is the party's "number one priority." She added that the system is being rigorously tested to make sure there are no vulnerabilities, and no data falls into the wrong hands.
Besides the option of caucusing over the phone, the party will hold early voting February 15 through 18. And then, on February 22, the party will hold its traditional in-person caucus.
"This will really be the most expansive, accessible and transparent caucus that we've ever run in Nevada," Wiltz said.
Accessibility is a natural problem in Nevada's rural communities, but Wiltz said the new options will help address that problem.
"We have hundreds of thousands of Nevadans that do not have reliable access to Wifi and so this phone option is going to be a really great opportunity for folks to be able to participate using nothing more than a landline," she said.
Wiltz believes outreach to rural communities is one of the reasons to keep caucuses in Nevada. She said the process forces the party and the candidates to reach out to people living in rural communities.
"The thing I think is really positive about a caucus, and especially positive about what we're going to do this year in 2020, is we are going to be engaging folks all over the state."
She said candidates will be touring rural communities and doing webinars with voters who typically don't get much face time with candidates.
"This is an opportunity for us to continue to build up our party, to find new Democrats ahead of the general election, who can engage with the party at a high level," she said.
This week the Elko Democratic Central Committee announced that four of the 24 Democratic presidential hopefuls will be part of its second virtual meet-and-greet at the Northeastern Nevada Museum this weekend.
The committee's first virtual meet-and-greet in May included Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Seth Moulton and Marianne Williamson.
Shelby Wiltz, 2020 caucus director, NV Dems; Sondra Cosgrove, professor of social sciences, CSN
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