Sun editorial:

Nevada voters have spoken, and they want to drop the caucus process


Wade Vandervort

Carol Tipton, center, precinct captain for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and supporters make their vote during caucus day at Coronado High School in Henderson, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.

Although the dust hasn’t completely settled from this year’s Nevada caucuses, the state emerged from the weekend having avoided the disastrous problems that played out in Iowa. Now, to ensure we never have to dodge a bullet like that again, we should drop the caucus method in favor of a primary vote.

Coming into this year, the Nevada State Democratic Party had already taken a baby step toward a primary by creating a four-day early voting period before the caucusing took place. The result: Nearly 75,000 people chose to cast a ballot — the same as they’d do in a primary — as opposed to participating in the day-of caucus. State Democrats said early voting amounted to more than 70% of the total participation of about 105,000, well up from 2016.

Talk about public support for a change.

And no wonder, because caucusing can be confusing and chaotic even when it doesn’t involve new wrinkles like the infamous Shadow app that caused the snafu in Iowa.

Under normal circumstances, some voters aren’t familiar with the rules of the process and therefore find it difficult to navigate. And invariably, there are reports of the rules being misinterpreted or misapplied by supervisors at some caucusing sites.

It’s time to leave this archaic process behind.

Not only have voters made their preference clear, but switching to a primary will help ensure a smoother process in future elections. This year, the situation in Iowa left Nevada Democrats scrambling to create a contingency that didn’t involve the Shadow app.

The new plan worked, but the turnaround was too close for comfort.

The bottom line, though, is that a primary would make voting access easier for Nevadans, and that’s what it’s all about.

As former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “We’ve made it easier for people to register to vote here in Nevada in recent years, and now we should make it easier for people to vote in the presidential contests.”

That’s hitting it on the nose. And it’s meaningful coming from Reid, who for years had advocated strongly for caucusing on the argument that it provided a prime opportunity to register voters.

Unlike traditional voting, caucusing involves voters forming groups based on the candidates they support and then being counted. Candidates who do not draw support from at least 15% of the participants at each site are declared nonviable, and their supporters are allowed to join other groups. The process allows voters to persuade each other to join their group.

Proponents of caucusing say they enjoy the participatory and public nature of the process. But as shown by the early voting results this year, many voters prefer the simplicity and privacy of casting ballots.

Another disturbing problem with caucusing is that it inevitably places social pressure on voters, and therefore has been used as a tool to suppress involvement among some voting groups. Imagine being a black voter in a roomful of whites who are aggressively pressing you to vote a particular way, for instance. While in modern times the process may involve less outright coercion, it remains a fact that social pressure and subtle forms of voter suppression are inevitably part of caucusing. Society desperately needs all voters involved in the process, and a secret ballot and widely available voting options are the best way to encourage participation among people of color, young people and, indeed, all people.

And as for caucusing and voter registration, Reid is correct that registering has become far easier in recent years thanks to online registration and advancements like the motor voter ballot question approved by voters in 2018. That measure made voter registration automatic when someone obtains a Nevada driver’s license.

Nevada lawmakers have considered adopting a primary before for both Democrats and Republicans, most recently in 2015. But a bill that year died amid partisan disagreement and questions about how the primary voting would be funded. One problem was the timing: the Republican-backed bill called for the primary to be scheduled in January, which Democrats said would have broken their party’s rules and cost the state delegates.

Lawmakers should try again in 2021, this time focusing on the needs of the voters and not their own parties. Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative leaders have indicated they expect a bill to come up, which is great to hear.

Caucusing has had its day, and now should go into the history books alongside powdered wigs and quill pens. Nevadans want a simple, reliable, familiar form of picking a presidential nominee — a primary vote.