Legislation to make Nevada the first presidential primary is unveiled

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Christopher DeVargas

Joe Biden speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at Hyde Park Middle School one night before the Nevada Democratic Caucus, Friday Feb. 21, 2020.

Published Mon, Feb 15, 2021 (3:16 p.m.)

Updated Mon, Feb 15, 2021 (5:45 p.m.)

CARSON CITY — A bill that would change Nevada's presidential caucus to a primary and make it the first nominating contest in the country has been unveiled.

The legislation from Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, a Democrat, calls for Nevada to hold the primary on the second-to-last Tuesday in January. It would include 10 days of early voting that wraps up the Friday before the election.

The primary would be run by the state, instead of the caucuses run by political parties, and would be a separate election from a June primary held to pick party nominees and narrow the field of candidates for federal, state and local offices.

The bill comes on the heels of the chaotic 2020 Iowa caucuses, where because of days-long delays in reporting results, many Democrats — including Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez — supported an end to caucuses outright.

“Nevada made great strides to make caucuses more accessible, but the nature of a caucus limits the ability to make it more inclusive,” Frierson said in a statement. “The time has come for Nevada to move to a primary and to move to the front of the line when it comes to nominating a president.”

Lawmakers pushing for the change to establish Nevada as the first in the nominating process cite the state’s diversity over the two states currently at the front of the line, Iowa and New Hampshire.

It’s been a goal of former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has long held that Nevada’s diverse population means it should be the first state to vote.

“I firmly believe that Nevada, with our broad diversity that truly reflects the rest of the country, should not just be among the early states,” Reid said to the New York Times in February 2020. “We should be the first in the nation.”

Tradition stands in the way of the change, as Iowa and New Hampshire have been fiercely protective of their positions over the years.

According to New Hampshire state law, the state must hold its nominating contest before any “similar contest,” and the New Hampshire secretary of state has the power to move the date. As such, it’s much easier for the state to change its date.

It’s also unclear what the position the national parties will take on the proposed change. Frierson said he expects discussions among Nevada leadership, other states and national leaders of both parties.

“We’re going to have conversations with our national partners and our other state leaders who also have an interest,” Frierson said. “What we’ve seen is that Nevada has been a better barometer of where the country is going.”

He said it was important to work on the measure during the ongoing legislative session so the state would have time to get ready for the 2024 presidential election. Primaries are run by states, and would therefore cost money, though it would cost nothing until 2024. Frierson was unsure of a price tag but said he was working to get that number.

“Nevada’s already been first in the West and I think we’ve shown, by reflecting a diverse constituency and a diverse population, that it’s worthwhile for candidates to find out what folks in Nevada are thinking,” Frierson said.

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