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Countdown to Caucus: 11 Months Out, Nevada Democrats Signal Reforms to Add More “Small-D Democracy” to Process

Over the weekend, we recounted the 2016 caucus fracas that still seems to haunt some Nevadans to this day. Today, the Nevada State Democratic Party (NSDP) sought to turn the page on the 2016 drama with the release of its 2020 proposed delegate selection plan. While the caucus itself remains a complicated system, party leaders are hoping the new plan will cut down on the confusion and diffuse any residual anger from previous cycles.

So what’s changing this time, and what will probably remain the same? Here’s a first look at the potentially huge changes coming to a caucus site near you.

One major reason for the 2016 unrest: The nature of the caucus system itself
Photo by Andrew Davey

In case you missed it over the weekend, I provided a fairly brief summary of the series of events that led to the infamous May 2016 Democratic Convention meltdown on the Las Vegas Strip:

“When [Bernie] Sanders’ campaign caught the [Hillary] Clinton team napping during the first round of county party conventions in April 2016, all hell began to break loose. Sanders was on track to narrow Clinton’s pledged delegate advantage to just one, but her team succeeded in restoring her five delegate advantage at the state party convention the following month thanks to Clinton’s campaign turning out slightly more state party delegates. Some Sanders delegates attempted parliamentary maneuvers to overturn the official state convention count. And when the Sanders camp failed, some of them proceeded to disrupt the convention throughout the day, ultimately succeeding in getting (what remained of) the convention kicked out of the Paris Las Vegas conference center later that night.”

Again, this fight was over a five delegate difference between Clinton and Sanders, and it occurred at a time when Clinton was already mathematically guaranteed to win the Democratic nomination. Nonetheless, this caucus fracas served as a rude awakening to Democrats here in Nevada and nationwide. The caucus itself is anything but “small d democratic” with its many barriers to entry, and the caucus-to-convention delegate endurance race showed how little those February caucus “votes” actually mattered when it came to final delegate allocation.

“Our new plan will ensure Nevada’s caucus will be the most accessible and transparent caucus yet.”
– William McCurdy II, NSDP Chair
Photo by Andrew Davey

This morning, the state party released the official first draft of its 2020 delegate selection plan. One very noticeable difference is the removal (or at least, lowering) of the barriers to entry that tend to make caucuses feel so undemocratic. For the first time ever, four days of in-person early voting and online “virtual caucuses” will be open to voters who are already registered Democrats and eligible voters who wish to register as Democrats in order to participate in the caucus.

“Our new plan will ensure Nevada’s caucus will be the most accessible and transparent caucus yet,” declared NSDP Chair and State Assembly Member William McCurdy II (D-Las Vegas) during the party’s press conference today. He continued, “Early voting is a staple in Nevada. It provides the opportunity for voters to vote for their candidates when they want and where they want.”

In addition, the party made another big announcement: All pledged delegates will be allocated based on caucus day results. Or as NSDP Executive Director Alana Mounce put it, “The delegate allocation will be locked in the February 22, 2020, caucus day results.” So instead of everyone waiting with baited breath on some coup attempt, failure to mobilize delegates, or other hijinks that may or may not affect the final delegate count, Democratic voters will at least know that their caucus day votes will matter in terms of deciding who the nominee will be.

“As our community grows, we want to make sure we stay in touch with all our voters across our diverse communities.”
– William McCurdy II, NSDP Chair

So what other changes can we expect? In recent cycles, the party has offered preference cards (or what counts as ballots in party caucuses) in English and Spanish. Starting in 2020, NSDP plans to offer preference cards in Tagalog to accommodate Filipino-Americans who feel more comfortable communicating in Tagalog. But what about others in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, such as those who primarily speak Mandarin Chinese or Vietnamese?

McCurdy stressed that he and other party leaders will listen to community input and consider adding more languages if that’s what Democrats demand. “The goal for the party is that our community becomes more diverse, we ensure we can communicate with all our voters,” McCurdy said. He continued, “As our community grows, we want to make sure we stay in touch with all our voters across our diverse communities.”

In addition, McCurdy announced another big change: the hiring of Shelby Wiltz as the 2020 caucus director. She served as organizing director for the party’s 2018 coordinated campaign, so party leaders voiced confidence she will hit the ground running as she reintroduces herself to activists and prospective caucus-goers. Mounce seconded McCurdy in stressing, “We want to ensure the process is as open and transparent as possible leading into 2020,” as she described how Shelby Wiltz will make herself as accessible to the community as party leaders promise the caucus itself will ultimately be.

Amidst the #WeMatter hype, how will your votes matter?
Photo by Andrew Davey

While there are many ways the party can change the caucus process, there are still some factors that are out of the state party’s control. For one, it’s up to the Nevada Legislature and the Governor to decide whether to keep the current caucus system in place or switch to a state-run primary. As long as our state government continues to decline the responsibility of running actual primary elections, the nomination process will continue to be one that’s determined by the state parties.

As for things like superdelegates factoring into the outcome and the possibility of Nonpartisan voters and third-party voters being allowed to participate in selecting the two major parties’ respective nominees, those decisions are mostly made by the Democratic and Republican National Committees.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Yet when it comes to factors that are within the state party’s control, NSDP leaders are signaling that change truly is in the air. Oh, and even more change is possible, as McCurdy declared, “Starting today, we will accept public input from the community. And on May 3, we will submit our new plan to the DNC.”

If you want to provide some of your own input, you can do so through the state party’s online feedback form. As for the Republicans, they’re currently slated to hold their caucus on February 25, 2020, though that’s yet to be finalized by the RNC. While both parties’ respective leaders love to talk about how “#WeMatter”, today’s big NSDP news serves as a reminder that Nevada’s actual voters still seek confirmation that their votes will truly matter here.

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