Nevada has been holding caucuses since the 1960s, but never before has is arrived on the political scene so early in the race.
“As a rule we have always had a caucus,” said Dan Burk, Washoe County assistant registrar of voters. “However it has always been much later in the year so there was very little interest in them.”
Burk said the calls to the registrar’s office have been non-stop. He said that many were voicing concerns about the process because it is so different this year.
“People have been asking, ‘If I don’t attend this (caucus) can I vote in the general election?’ ” Burk said. “Absolutely, yes.”
Burk explained that although there is no absentee ballot process for the caucus, the bed-ridden, home-bound and the military members can voice their vote in the general election.
“Some people are asking if we are going to have a primary this year,” Burk said. “The answer is yes, but the primary (ballot) will not have the presidential names on it. This (the caucus) will be the process by which the people will vote for their presidential candidate.”
By having an early caucus, Nevada is now playing a greater role in influencing which candidates will get the nomination from their parties. How the residents of Nevada vote may sway how others vote in the coming caucuses around the nation.
“What is exciting about this caucus opportunity is that we get to be on the national stage and have a voice,” said Jennifer Crowe, spokesperson for the Northern Nevada Democratic Party.
Crowe explained that the Democratic caucus process this year was patterned after the Iowa caucus, which is traditionally one of the first in the nation.
“The thing that we are really stressing with this format is that a caucus is not a vote,” Crowe said. “A caucus is your voice,” she added, stressing the public participation aspect of the event.
The caucus process is decided by the individual parties and both of the two events have their own distinct rules.
Democrats will arrive at their caucus location and sign a form stating that they live in the precinct. After they have checked in, the voters will align themselves in different corners of the room according to their preferred candidate. From there, each group tries to sway the other voters to join their group. Those who have been swayed will realign themselves and the bodies will be counted.
Whereas the Democratic caucus is public voting, the Republican caucus will be conducted by private ballot.
“We asked the people of the Washoe Central Committee and that’s what they wanted,” said Heidi Smith, chair of the Washoe County Republican Party. “They wanted the votes to be private.”
After signing in with their ID, Republican participants will take their seats. Representatives for each candidate will then have two minutes to speak and sway the audience’s vote. After the speeches, voters will mark their candidate of choice on a paper ballot.
Republican voters are then free to go home and wait for their votes to be tallied and released later that day.
Smith said she is anxious to see the turnout results because of the way the caucus was organized.
“With this early caucus we have so many more people who are involved,” Smith said. “Only political junkies would come to the precinct meetings in the past.”
With the caucus’ new popularity, the presidential candidates and media have sent an influx of attention Nevada’s way, creating interest a political event that was previously in the shadows.
“I’ve noticed a lot of people seem to be intimidated by the caucus,” Nevada assemblywoman Debbie Smith said. “Don’t be afraid of the process, just come and do it. It’s going to be very exciting.”
Local canvassers — volunteers for campaigns who make phone calls or go door to door — have also noticed that potential voters have a lot of questions.
“Most of the questions I get are about the caucus,” said Ashley Massey, a 21-year-old volunteer for the John Edwards campaign. “A lot of people donít like that the vote is public. But most are just excited that Nevada is going to have a powerful voice.”