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By Wendy Underhill

Tomorrow (Feb. 22) is Caucus Day for Nevada’s Democrats, and the key question is—of course—which candidate will get the most delegates. We’ve heard lots about how Nevadans have a plan for vote tabulation and reporting that is different than Iowa’s. What we haven’t heard as much about is what makes Nevada’s caucus process unique.

Senator Harry Reid and his wife, Landra, at an event in Las Vegas in November 2019. Mr. Reid’s political operation is assisting with the Nevada caucus. Credit...Joe Buglewicz for The New York TimesEven though it’s a caucus, Democrats had an opportunity for “early voting” this year. Until now, “caucus” meant in-person events where neighbors gather to “caucus” (a verb as well as a noun). Which is to say, caucus-goers would meet in a room, where supporters of different candidates would make pitches in support of their candidates.

Once the pitches were over, caucus-goers would align themselves in the room to make their preferences clear. If the number of supporters for a particular candidate did not meet a certain percentage of overall caucus-goers in the room (“viability”), those supporters of the non-viable candidates could realign until only a small number of candidates remained. The support for those remaining candidates is tallied across the state to make the final statewide delegation distribution.

Adding four days of early voting to a caucus process is a Nevada-only feature. According to the official Nevada State Delegate Selection Plan, at the early voting sites on February 15-18, voters filled out a paper card to show their ranked-choice selections.

That way, just like caucus-goers, early voters can be sure their second (or third) choice candidate gets support, even if their first-choice candidate is knocked out. From the plan: “The Nevada State Democratic Party will respect the first choices of early vote participants and only realign an early vote participant if their first choice is not viable on Caucus Day.”

There’s one other Nevada-only option for Democratic voters: “strip caucus locations.” This isn’t new—Nevada’s Democrats have been providing at-large sites for any Democrats who are part of Las Vegas’s 24/7 economy since 2008.

For these workers, getting back to their home precinct’s caucus site just isn’t an option, so at-large sites will be open. The strip caucus locations will operate more like the early voting sites, in that a ranked-choice preference card will be filled out.

Here are the FAQs for Nevada’s Democratic caucus.  

As for Nevada’s Republicans, they canceled their caucuses. That’s not unprecedented for the party of an incumbent running for re-election.

Wendy Underhill is the director of NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

Email Wendy


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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.