Listen

News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station

KNPR

Nevada Might Scrap The Caucus

caucus_smith4.jpg

Chris Smith/Desert Companion

Two Bernie Sanders supporters wait to caucus during the Nevada Democratic Caucus in February.

The Nevada caucus last month went better than many people had expected.

After the meltdown in Iowa, leadership at the Nevada Democratic Party decided to abandon the apps they’d been planning to use for early voting and vote counting. It was a last-minute change that made many observers nervous.

But when the caucus happened, the big story was the popularity of early voting – nearly two-thirds of the more than 100,000 Nevadans who participated chose to vote early.

Then, Democratic leaders around the state – including Harry Reid – announced their support for moving away from the caucus entirely. They want Nevada to adopt primary elections in 2024.

Brad Bynum, the editor of the Reno News & Review, thinks Nevada should stick with the caucus, now that early voting is an option.

He said that because Nevada is so early in the process a caucus allows people who aren't close observers of politics a chance to learn about the candidates.

“It allows for a little bit of deliberation. It allows for a little bit of conversation,” he said.

Bynum sees the caucus system as a way for people to get into democracy on the ground level.

While he likes the caucus, Bynum would like to see the early voting portion expanded.

“I think that the fact that there was such high turnout among the early voting for the caucus this year just shows that that’s a good system and they need to expand the opportunities for that,” he said.

Support comes from

Fred Lokken is chair of the political science department at Truckee Meadows Community College. He disagreed and said the caucus actually disenfranchises people.

“The design, to begin with, is not something that the average voter is aware of. They feel very intimidated and overwhelmed by it,” Lokken said.

He said caucuses run counter to the political culture of Nevada, which is generally respectful of other people's political views. He said it seems strange for people to go into a room and talk about politics.

“It’s a very unnerving experience and it has kept many Nevada voters on both the Republican and Democratic sides out of the process,” he said.

Lokken also pushed back on the idea that a caucus is part of the country's political history. He noted that caucuses weren't around before the 60s. 

“The caucus is an interloper that comes into the picture and becomes famous under Jimmy Carter in 1976 and we’ve seen it used intermittently since,” he said, “The most recent debacle in Iowa indicates the myriad of problems that can occur with these. They are very complex operations. I think that we are really far more familiar with something that looks like an election process and that’s what a primary affords us."

Lokken said the number of people who voted early this time shows that people don't like the caucus system.

State Senator Ben Kieckhefer is a Republican who represents Carson City. He agreed that the numbers show people would rather vote in a primary. 

“I think it's an access and usability issue. I think voters like primaries,” he said. 

Kieckhefer noted that more and more people are registering as nonpartisan in Nevada and with a caucus system they're left out of the process.

“Those people are effectively blocked out from electing their representatives in government. So, unless we open up our primary system, those people are going to continue being disenfranchised,” he said.

He's pushing for an initiative that would reform primaries in the state but the changes wouldn't impact presidential primaries because the caucus system is part of the state's statutes.

“I wasn’t going to go in and ask both political parties to change their entire nominating process in our state. I think that was a much heavier lift,” he said.

He has until November to get the signatures needed to change the system to a primary then it will go to the Legislature. Lawmakers in Carson City can either adopt it, reject it or propose an alternative. If they purpose an alternative or reject it, the initiative will go on the ballot for voters to decide. 

Guests

Fred Lokken, Chair, Truckee Meadows Community College Political Science Department. Ben Kieckhefer, State Senator, Carson City. Brad Bynum, Editor, Reno News & Review.

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.