Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Nevada Caucus Rules, or bad idea, second edition

Take a complex system, the highest stakes in the world, a mob of media hacks, and thousands of rookies trying to hold it all together, add in some gambling, and what do you get? The Nevada caucuses. The rules (as best I can understand) are as follows, according to a quick read of the Official Rules (source: PDF) tells us much information. Differences with Iowa are underlined:

As in Iowa, caucusgoers must be physically present at a given time and place, though in this case the caucuses are held at noon on Saturday the 19th. The caucus is open to all voters who will be 18 on election day in November.

This is interesting: any person wishing to participate in the Republican caucus must have registered as a Republican at least 30 days ago. The Nevada secretary of state's website says of the Democratic caucus: "If you are not already registered but eligible to vote, you may complete a registration form and participate on the day of the caucus." At least on Hillary's website, that is presented as permitting caucusgoers to change their registration from Republican or independent as they arrive at the caucus.

Anyway, caucusgoers will form preference groups after hearing appeals from candidates' subordinates in their meeting spaces. When the chair declares time for the formation of preference groups, caucusgoers fill out a paper "pledge card" that indicates their preference that will eventually be turned over to the officials, that they take with them. They form said preference groups. Candidates who attract less than 15% of the total number present at the caucus are declared "non-viable" and have the option to change preferences. (In smaller precincts, the viability threshold can be a caucus sending 3 delegates, the threshold is 1/6, in a 2-delegate precinct, 25%.)

Supporters of non-viable candidates, and only supporters of non-viable candidates, can then give up their pledge card and move to another group. This bears repeating: if caucusing for a viable candidate, one must stay there, and cannot be talking into joining elsewhere.

There is a significant affirmative action plank to the rules, including gender equity. I don't know if that's the case in Iowa.

Compare/contrast with Iowa:

  • The viability threshold will not have the same distortive impact as it did in Iowa, where 5 candidates representing up to 15% of the initial vote were often affected, here it will only be two.
  • This is Nevada's first go at a large-scale caucus. We're talking thousands of rookie caucus chairs. Though Spanish is commonly spoken in Nevada, a rookie caucus chair with poor Spanish may be in for a hard time.
  • Many Nevadans will be working in the entertainment industry at caucus time. Casino management has been reluctant to make provisions for them in the schedule.
  • It's much harder to game the math as well, getting one more or less delegates. No longer can a viable candidate lift up another to viability in return for something.
  • These are also in some ways rookie organizations. Can the nascent Nevada campaigns handle it? (The ultimate insider's son -- Harry Reid's boy Rory is chairing her effort)

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