Nevada's Democratic County Convention Kerfuffle Explained

Apr 6, 2016

Delegates at the Washoe County Democratic convention at UNR on April 2.

Bernie Sanders scored a big victory at Nevada's county-level Democratic conventions last Saturday — this was despite Hillary Clinton's win at the state's February 20th precinct caucuses. Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey sat down with Fred Lokken, political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, to break down what happened.

"I don't blame a single voter in Nevada for somehow thinking maybe the decision had been made on Saturday, Feb. 20," says Lokken on the confusion that followed the results last weekend.

In Clark County, the Sanders' campaign mobilized more of its supporters, 2,964 to Clinton's 2,386, effectively picking up a few extra delegates for the state convention next month and embarrassing the Clinton campaign.

Lokken says the same thing happened to Clinton in '08 when she ran against Barack Obama.  

"In Clark County, Hillary Clinton had scored an average of 10 points above Bernie Sanders [in Feb.] and yet it's in Clark County where the Bernie Sanders delegate count upticked in spite of the fact he lost the first of this three-step process," he says.

Because Nevada's caucuses are a three-step process — precinct-, county-, then state-level — a lot can change between the first vote and the last, says Lokken. 

He predicts Sanders will pick up one or two more delegates as a result, but that Clinton's standing among so-called super delegates still gives her an advantage at the state convention in mid-May.

However, that's no guarantee.   

Part of the chaos, says Lokken, is due to the party's confusing rules and tight control it exercises over selecting its nominee. Another issue is that delegates are not required to stick with the candidate they first select, allowing for some fluidity between the precinct caucus to the state convention. 

Either way, Lokken says, this sort of development only serves to further disenfranchise voters. 

"What they [caucuses] do is damage to support," he says. "People who come, they want to believe in the Democratic process; they get so irritated, so shocked, so turned off---it just makes them more cynical."

"Parties are not gaining anything by doing it this way," he says.