By Meseret Carver,
As a high school student, the 2016 presidential primary elections had been only mildly interesting to me. But that all changed after watching and being involved with the Democratic caucus in Reno, Nev. on Saturday, Feb. 20.
Stalemate in Sparks
The Saturday morning lines wound around the corner of Sparks High School. After waiting more than two hours, eager voters were separated into groups in various classrooms based on their precinct number, which is decided by address.
Inside each classroom, a precinct leader is assigned to direct the discussions. Here, the voters wait for about 20 minutes in anticipation.
“Ten more seconds is what I just heard,” said a man passing by the open door. The room filled with laughter and disbelief.
“Ten more seconds until ten more seconds,” another man commented, shaking his head.
After the long wait, the discussion began.
The precinct I observed had voters split into three groups: those who support Hillary Clinton (three people), those who support Bernie Sanders (10) and uncommitted voters (one).
In order for a group to have representation and a vote, there had to be at least four members in it–this threshold is determined by the number of attendees in each precinct.
After the preliminary vote in the room, uncommitted voters and the Clinton supporters, who did not meet the four-member threshold, had the opportunity to “realign” with another group under the Nevada caucus rules. The complications came when no group budged.
Sanders supporters all seemed to agree that their candidate would be revolutionary for the United States.
“All the issues that he puts forth to revolutionize are close to my heart,” senior supporter Laurie Martin said. “I believe in his platform, his values, his integrity and I would even be willing to pay more taxes to make that happen.”
The Hillary supporters were also unyielding. Volunteer Ginny Rowmer cast an angry and passionate vote for Clinton stemming from her frustrations with young women who support Sanders.
“I’ve watched all things women have done to bring us farther along the road and I’ve seen what Hillary has done. She’s pretty much changed the world for women internationally,” Rowmer said.
“I know what Hillary’s done to change the world and she’s changed my life,” she added. “For young women to say, ‘it’s okay because Bernie is for women’ compared to everything Hillary has done, to me, is just sad. That’s why I’m fighting as much as I can; so the young women don’t lose their rights.”
Younger voters, meanwhile, seem to be swayed by Sanders’ promise to reform education and health care.
“I know people that might be in debt for the rest of their lives just because they went to the hospital,” college student Jackson Clague said. “I’m a student and I know my fellow students are $10,000, $20,000, $50,000 in debt just because they wanted to go to school and get an education.”
These same arguments were made in the precinct I observed, but the uncommitted voter remained undecided.
Finally, a lawyer and a site organizer were called into the room to mediate the situation. After research and calls to the “boiler room” at Democratic Party headquarters, it was decided that the group would have another discussion to try and sway the minority groups in the precinct.
Neither group was about to cave. Though the eventual result was confusing–and caucus officials were reluctant to share information with me–it appeared that the Sanders majority won the precinct.
Hard-fought Reno battle
Both the Clinton and Sanders groups have been campaigning in the Reno area for about a week through phone calls, canvasing (door-to-door contact) and rallies. Friday morning, after canvasing for Clinton for several hours, I returned to the Clinton headquarters in Reno to find former President Bill Clinton giving a last-minute speech.
“When [Hillary] walked out of the State Department as the most admired, most respected, most trusted figure in American public light, with the highest approval and lowest disapproval, [the Republicans] devoted themselves, for three years, into slamming her,” Clinton said. He paused and look out at the crowd.
“What does that tell you? They are begging you: ‘please do not nominate her…I mean, she’s actually done something,’ ” Clinton said. The crowded room erupted with laughter and cheers at his words.
Sanders also visited the Reno area that same day and gave a speech at a rally thrown by his supporters at the Nugget Hotel. Actress Susan Sarandon provided opening remarks.
“This is not just an election,” Sarandon said. “This is something so special. The choices are so clear. This is a chance to reboot and redefine what our government is and who we want to represent our values.”
Earlier this year, I would have watched debates, speeches and rallies like these and wondered what it had to do with me; I was surprised to find that advocates addressed this question.
Sanders campaign volunteer Froilan Ramos has worked on his share of campaigns in several states, and said he has seen how high school students can make a difference. While campaigning for President Barack Obama in 2008, Ramos worked with 450 high schoolers, who volunteered for four hours at a time making phone calls.
“In order to make a difference, you don’t have to be voting age,” Ramos said.
Additionally, Nevada election rules allow younger teens to vote: the state allows 17-year-olds to participate in caucuses as long as they can prove they will be 18 by Nov. 23.
After the speeches by Clinton and Sanders, their supporters in Reno were more motivated than ever.
Mary Janet Romos, the head organizer for Clinton’s campaign, gave a pep talk to all her volunteers ahead of the vote.
“We need energy,” she said. “A lot, lot, lot more than the Bernie supporters! Because who’s going to win?”
“Hillary!” the crowd shouted.
Volunteers at the Clinton headquarters work for hours on end putting together canvasing packets, making calls and answering questions. Though Sanders won Washoe County, where Reno is located, the Clinton volunteers were rewarded with a victory; at time of publication, Clinton leads the state 52.6 percent to Sanders’ 47.3, and has been declared the winner.
Although Nevada’s caucus rules are generally the same as other caucus states, there is one significant difference: unlike in Iowa, the first state to caucus this year, Nevada citizens can register on the day of the caucus and do not need identification to register before caucusing–just an address.
For this reason, the Nevada Republican Party is suggesting Republican voters participate in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses (the Republicans vote Feb. 23), presenting an opportunity for one party to manipulate the outcome of the other.
The Nevada Democratic Party claims that the Republican Party’s promotion of this tactic violates state law, and is threatening to prosecute voters who participate in both caucuses.
“The Nevada State Democratic Party will work with law enforcement to prosecute anyone who falsely registers as a Democrat to caucus tomorrow and subsequently participates in the Republican caucuses on Tuesday,” Nevada State Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange said in a press release.