Report from NV, Part Two: the Democratic caucus
As soon as the Republican caucus was through, I headed across town to another location where Democrats were getting ready for their voting to begin. The crowd was a bit rowdier over there, as I entered the Ernest A. Becker Middle School to a shouting contest between Obama and Clinton supporters. Lots of people were decked out in their campaign shwag, with one person almost completely covering a car with Clinton signs (I hope that was after they got there). The first half hour was devoted to registration and helping people find what area of the school was assigned to their precinct. The bleachers in the gym were labeled with the names of candidates, and people started to congregate in their respective areas as hundreds of people queued up to register. While the crowd in the gym was livelier, with three precincts represented, I decided to head over to a small room where I could follow the action more closely.
The precinct I visited had 64 people out of 100 possible voters, so the caucus chairs were excited about the turnout. The Democratic caucus involves people standing in corners depending on which candidate they support, after which they have 15 minutes to convince other people to join their group. Voters were instructed to split up in to Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and “anyone else,” so it seemed they had already narrowed it down a bit in their minds. After what they called the “first alignment,” there were sizeable groups for both Obama and Clinton, with 5 Edwards supporters and only 2 undecided voters.
Since the Edwards group didn’t meet the fifteen percent viability threshold, representatives from the Clinton and Obama camps surrounded them in an attempt to gain their votes. I moved closer to try to hear what arguments they used, but all I could make out were a few words here and there: “Bush-light,” “lobbyists,” “Bill.” It looked more like Clinton and Obama supporters arguing with each other over the heads of the people they were trying to court. In the end, one Edwards supporter left, and the other folks split between the two groups. In the final count, Clinton had 38 votes and Obama had 26. Due to a complicated and somewhat convoluted caucus system, this amounted to a tie due to the calculation for delegates, with each receiving two. Once again, this matched up pretty well with the ultimate results, with Clinton winning the caucus, and receiving 13 delegates to Obama’s 12.
It is strange to watch this process in action, and one has to wonder how the process was developed. Unlike what most of use are used to, the caucus system does not allow each person a vote essentially, so the frontrunners end up with the bulk of the support. It’s a relatively casual process, with volunteers following a checklist that’s posted on the wall. One interesting aspect that I noticed in both caucuses was the way it allowed neighbors to get to know each other, and I heard lots of people making connections with other people in their neighborhoods. Of course, that positive aspect becomes less appealing when they are bonding over things like amending the constitution to mandate that everyone speak English.
I will continue to talk with our supporters in Nevada to get more reports of the action on the ground, and the dozens of people who planned to offer our resolutions in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses. Those issues will become particularly important as the county conventions come up and delegates will be discussing the party platforms in depth and voting on issues. Peace Action West will continue our work to educate votes about the candidates’ positions through the primary process.