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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

On heels of Nevada caucus, Democrats want switch to primary

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Though final results from Nevada’s presidential caucuses were still trickling in early this week, top Democrats in the state didn’t waste time in calling for Nevada to switch to a primary and abandon the complicated math and in-person neighborhood meetings that come with a presidential caucus.

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who helped Nevada move to its coveted early caucus status in 2008, was the first to issue the call. He said Sunday it was time for Nevada to make it easier for people to participate as they help choose who will lead the country.

About 100,000 people voted in last weekend’s presidential caucuses in Nevada, about 19% higher turnout than four years earlier. But that’s only a fraction of the registered voters in the state and about one-fifth the votes cast for Democrat Jacky Rosen when she defeated Republican Dean Heller in a Senate race two years ago.

William McCurdy II, the chair of the Nevada Democrats, echoed Reid on Monday, saying it was time to have a conversation about the limitations of the caucus process.

Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson issued statements agreeing with McCurdy. Frierson said he’s already working on legislation to change Nevada’s laws and switch to a primary.

The caucus system — a political-party run election that relies on complex math, fiddly rules and generally requires that people turn up in-person at hours-long meetings — has faced criticism for years that it’s hard for people to participate.

To address that, the Democratic National Committee encouraged caucus states to switch to a primary this year or make their caucuses easier for voters.

Nevada, one of only seven caucus contests that remained in 2020, added ballot-based early voting that mirrored a typical primary. It was used by about three-quarters of all voters who participated in Nevada’s caucus.

While Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus this year was marred by reporting problems, Nevada Democrats largely succeeded in pulling off their contest. But voters still expressed annoyance with the system.

Ridge Higgins, a 27-year-old retail manager, tried to vote in Saturday’s caucus but was turned away from a site in Las Vegas after volunteers told him he showed up at the wrong location and registration had closed because the meetings were starting.

“This is one of the most outrageous institutions,” he said as he left.

Alicia Sabers, a Reno teacher, said she took advantage of the early voting so she wouldn’t have to “sit in a room and discuss the campaigns.”

Nevada has switched over the last century back and forth from being a caucus state to a presidential primary. But it has been an early caucus state since 2008 in a deal brokered by Reid that gave Nevada the bragging rights of the “first in the West” for the party to pick its preferred presidential candidate.

It’s unclear whether the Democratic National Committee would allow Nevada to keep its prominent early-state status if it switches to a primary.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said the party has a conversation after every election cycle about what went wrong and what has to change.

“I will certainly work hard to make sure we have a conversation as a DNC about the continuing role of caucuses,” Perez said in a statement. He noted that the decisions have to be made with state legislatures and governors changing their laws.

Frierson did not respond to phone and email messages from The Associated Press seeking details about his legislation, but it is not the only bill in the works.

Nevada Sen. Keith Pickard, a Republican, is also working on legislation to switch to a primary. Under his proposal, the presidential primary would be held on the same days as primary contests for state offices, which are currently held in summer.

Pickard said he hasn’t zeroed in on when he’d like the new primary to occur, but he worries that if it’s too early in the year, candidates will be knocking on voters’ doors and campaigning over the holidays.

Nevada Republican Party chair Michael McDonald said he’s open to switching Republicans from a caucus to a primary but he wants his state party’s governing members to weigh in.

He said it’s “absolutely” imperative, though, for Nevada to keep its early status.

“The last thing Nevada wants to become is a flyover state,” he said.


Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno contributed to this report.

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