The 2012 Nevada Republican presidential preference caucus has come and gone but the reverberations can still be heard as of the deadline for this column.
First of all, the good news: Incline’s caucus went very well; 384 stalwart Republicans showed up at Incline High School to elect their neighbors as delegates to the Washoe County GOP Convention, as members of the County Central Committee and finally to vote for their presidential candidates. That number represents a turnout of about 12%, which is not too bad for a community of snow birds. Incline conservatives owe a debt of gratitude to Site Coordinator Greg McKay, Republican Women’s Club President Carol Del Carlo and about 25 other volunteers who made the process work.
Unofficial reports are that the rest of Washoe County’s GOP caucuses also went well as did the process in 15 other Nevada counties. Clark County, unfortunately, appears to have suffered some reverses.
Before I get to that, I should explain something about caucuses. Under Nevada law, elections are the sole responsibility of the state as administered by counties. In prior times, both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates were determined in primary elections. With that came the full panoply of Nevada law, including voting machines, paid poll workers, early voting and absentee voting. Unfortunately, by the time of Nevada’s primary election, the presidential selection process was over in both parties (until recently Nevada’s primary occurred after both the Democratic and Republican conventions)
Caucuses, by contrast, are solely the responsibility of the political parties, including the responsibility to pay for them. That leads to all sorts of shortcuts, resulting in a reining in of voters’ rights because whatever a political party spends on its caucus it can’t spend beating up the other political party in a general election.
Turning now to Clark County—as of press time, the vote count was still going on. Why? Well, Nevada did not want the same embarrassment as Iowa, which reversed its results a week after the caucus, so Clark County GOP officials wanted to be extremely careful that every voter who was entitled to vote voted and that all votes were counted. But there was another reason.
Like the rest of Nevada, Clark County planned its GOP caucus to run from 9:00 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb 4. Late in the game, it realized that Saturdays are holy Sabbath days for Orthodox Jews and Seventh-Day Adventists, so a decision was made to conduct a supplemental caucus starting after sundown that day.
After the Clark County regular caucuses closed at noon, some Ron Paul supporters, using social media, started a rumor that voters who missed the morning caucuses could show up at the evening caucus and vote. Caucus administrators, fearful of duplicate voting, required everyone seeking to vote at the evening caucus to execute an affidavit that they didn’t participate in the morning caucus because of their faith.
They might as well have bitten some voters on the rear end. Some yelled fraud; others accused the GOP of religious intolerance; still others signed the affidavit and voted. Clark County GOP Chair David Gibbs decided that it was up to each voter to tell the truth.
The final Clark County evening caucus results in a statewide contest otherwise dominated by Mitt Romney: Paul, 183 votes; Romney, 61 votes; Gingrich, 57 votes and Santorum, 16 votes.
Maybe by the time this column appears in print they’ll have it worked out, but it’s clear that Nevada Republicans need some more experience in running caucuses.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and a member of the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees.)