Nevada Caucus Chaos

A campaign blog.
Jan. 14 2008 6:19 PM

Nevada Caucus Chaos

The lawsuit filed by a Nevadateachers’ union on Friday to keep Vegas Strip workers (the place, not theprofession) from caucusing in their workplaces is making a lot of people lookand sound crazy. But hey, that’s a caucus.

The main reason for the rage: The lawsuit is transparentlypolitical. The Nevada State Education Association hasn’t endorsed acandidate yet, but many of its leaders openly support Hillary Clinton. Now that theCulinary Workers union has endorsed Barack Obama, the nine new "At-Large"precincts set up in Vegas hotels—where a vast number of culinary workers willlikely turn out—threaten Clinton’sprospects. The plaintiffs claim that these caucus-goers would havedisproportionate influence compared to Nevadans who caucus in their homedistricts. But seeing as they never complained about this fact until the CulinaryWorkers endorsed Obama, their last-minute objection looks suspect.

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Obama practically turned it into a civil rights issue :"Are we going to let a bunch of lawyers try to prevent us from bringing aboutchange in America?"A group of Nevadateachers agreed with him, firing off an angry letter to their own union asking it to drop thesuit.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton weighedin in the name of fairness: "I think the rules ought to be the same foreveryone. I question why you would ever have a temporary caucus site and limitto a certain kind of workers." 

But even if the lawsuit is political, that doesn’t mean it’swrong. The plaintiffs’ main contention—that voters in at-large precincts willhave more influence than other Nevadans—may well be accurate. All Nevada precinctsallocate one delegate per 50 registered voters; the at-large precincts wouldlikely allocate more than that, according to the lawsuit (PDF here ).

But then again, caucus math is arbitrary in the first place. Who came up with the15 percent viability requirement? Why hold the caucus at 11 a.m., instead ofafter dinner? Why not create at-large precincts all over the state, not just on the Strip?The whole system is so random that this deviation from sanity seems no moreoffensive than any of the others. And seeing as this is Nevada's maiden voyage with the caucus system, there's no precedent. Bon voyage!

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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