by Susan Rose
I have worked in politics most of my adult life, in various capacities. I have walked districts and knocked on doors; raised funds for candidates; dialed for issues and candidates and volunteered for organizations like Planned Parenthood. I have created political action committees to support women candidates and feminist issues; and I have run for office and won. Most of those efforts were played out in primary or general elections.
When the email came to participate in caucuses for the Clinton campaign I jumped at the chance to see democracy in action from a different perspective. Las Vegas became the siren call.
On the Friday before the caucus, Congresswoman Lois Capps, Laura Capps, Debbie Rogow and I took off from Santa Maria and flew to Las Vegas. We arrived in Las Vegas and were directed to the City of Henderson, a community with a population over 290,000.
We spent the first afternoon walking Henderson neighborhoods encouraging likely Hillary supporters to attend the caucus the next day. We were told politely by one resident that this was “Trump Territory.”
That evening the Clinton Campaign held a rally at the convention center. Bill and Chelsea were there to support Hillary as well as actresses Eva Longoria and America Ferrera. After standing for hours Hillary arrived and gave a rousing speech to energize her supporters.
During the course of the weekend, whenever possible, we surveyed people’s choices for their candidate. The results of course were anecdotal and not truly data based, but Hillary Clinton won the taxi driver vote as well as hotel house keepers. All the drivers we spoke to were immigrants.
Saturday was the day of the actual caucus. We were sent to one of the outer lying offices in the city, then on to a neighborhood where staffers were working out of a garage and finally to a caucus location at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas. The City of North Las Vegas has a population of 230,000.
Point of information: local governments run primary and general elections but caucuses are run by local political parties. It is volunteers who are charged with making the caucuses work. During the weekend, we realized the local party was not sure what to do with the hundreds of out of town volunteers who had arrived to help.
The Las Vegas Democratic Caucus was open to all registered Democrats. The process involved registering either before hand or at the site, getting a ballot (in this case there were three choices- Bernie, Hillary or undecided) to fill out and then taking it to the classroom specified for each precinct. There the number of attendees for each candidate would be counted and ballots would be collected.
It was 10:30 in the morning and a line snaked from inside the high school cafeteria out the sidewalk and around the building. We were told that 18 precincts had been assigned to caucus at the high school.
Voters had to be on line between 11:00 am and noon. Caucus proceedings were supposed to start at noon, but because of the long lines, they did not begin until 1pm.
From the moment we arrived at the high school, it was obvious that the party had underestimated how many people would show up to vote. Because of the large number of people waiting, confusion and distress was rampant. Some decided to leave; we will never know how many gave up. We estimated that between 500 and 800 voters stayed and registered.
Online registration was supposed to be available but the Wi-Fi system was not working. Each registration had to be done individually by a party volunteer. The party seemed hesitant at first to use visitors but since there were too few party officials to move the lines along we were finally asked to help. In the end, we became traffic cops. We signed people in, explained the process and helped them locate their classrooms.
When everyone was assembled in each of their respective precinct classrooms, a member of the local party facilitated the process. This included explaining the procedures, electing a chair and secretary for each caucus, and passing an envelope around to help fund the caucus expenses.
Supporters of Clinton and Sanders were assigned to specific sides of the room. Undecideds were given the chance to hear speeches from a representative of both campaigns. They could then determine who if either they wanted to support.
Ballots were submitted and totaled. Each side was allocated a number of delegates to attend the county convention in April. There they will select the delegates to the national convention.
Our classroom voted for Hillary two to one. I observed a predominance of seniors and African-Americans at this precinct. By 3:30 most of the classrooms had completed the process. Many had been at the high school for five hours.
We were done and so was the election. Hillary was declared the winner. Because our caucus had been delayed, we missed her victory speech back on the strip in Caesar’s Palace.
When it was all over, Hillary Clinton had won the Nevada Caucus by 53% to Sanders 47%. She beat him handily by 21 points in North Las Vegas and 11 points in Henderson.
Nevada has a total of 43 delegates for the national convention. Hillary was awarded 20 delegates to Sander’s 15. Eight are committed to super delegates that includes members of Congress and other elected officials.
In total more than 80,000 people turned out to vote in the Nevada Caucus, considerably less than the 117,000 Democrats who voted in the 2008 election.
When I tried to determine the exact amount of votes for both candidates at Cheyenne High School I discovered there was no published source for these results. Clark County Nevada elections office informed me that they had no electoral information and the data remained with the party. Requests to the party went unanswered.
The caucus experience is a unique form of American grassroots democracy and one that kept most of the people at Cheyenne High School waiting on line and engaged. It was also chaotic. Democracy is never neat or easy, but voting matters as people in Las Vegas demonstrated.