Many Nevadans Seek Return to Primary After Chaotic Caucuses

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After being unable to hear speakers over the noise, Doug Rhoades stood and vented his frustration at his Republican precinct caucus in Sparks.

"We want a primary election next time!" he yelled from the Reed High School gym bleachers, where about 20 precincts gathered simultaneously.

Rhoades was not alone in his call for a return to the primary after caucus-goers reported various problems across Nevada on Saturday - and after the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama accused each other of strong-arm tactics at caucus sites.

Many of the record 116,000 Democrats and 44,000 Republicans
complained about long lines, cramped conditions, loud noise and
disorganization. Others who work on Saturday called the caucuses
inconvenient and too time-consuming.

Rhoades' precinct was among those that also temporarily ran out of ballots and other supplies because of the unexpected crush of caucus-goers.

"It seemed very confusing," said Rhoades, who works at a food
manufacturing company. "It seemed like there was a lot of room for
error. A primary seems to be so much smoother."

Republican Noralee Fredenburg, a Sparks schoolteacher, complained that the caucus system did not permit her son and other soldiers to cast their votes for president. Her son is stationed in Southern California.

"He's serving his country and he can't participate in the caucuses," Fredenburg said. "He would have had to have the permission of his superiors to come here, but he wasn't able to get it. I support the primary."

In scrapping the primary, the 1981 Legislature cited its costs and low turnout. Most Nevada primaries were held later in the year after nominations had already been decided.

Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, said Sunday that he expects the
2009 Legislature to consider legislation to restore the primary.

"A lot of people told me that the caucus was like inside ball, a whole new process," he said. "I think the primary is a better tool to measure what the popular support is for a given party's candidate in the presidential cycle. The primary involves less complication, less time to vote and familiarity in a traditional sense."

But Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said Sunday that she thinks it's "highly unlikely" lawmakers would approve a return to the primary because of the state's budget crunch.

Unlike the primary, caucuses are funded by the political parties instead of taxpayers.

"I don't think it would rise on the priority list when we have so many other pressing needs and a lack of resources to meet those needs," she said. "I personally would oppose it at this point in time because we can't properly fund education and health and human services."

For other caucus-goers, the experience was positive. Leah Scherr, a 41-year-old former Army soldier who caucused at Green Valley High School in Henderson, said the process was a little confusing but would improve in the future.

"To me this is what America is about, having a voice," Scherr told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Everyone gets up there and talks to their neighbors about what they believe in."

Republican Scott Hudson, a Sparks bus mechanic, agreed.

"It's a good democratic way of selecting a nominee," he said. "It was exciting to see so many people actually getting involved in the process. They need to get megaphones next time, but the caucuses will get better as they go along."

Representatives of both major political problems acknowledged problems, but said they were unavoidable because of the heavy
turnout by many people who had never participated in a caucus

"We realize there were some bumps in the process ... but this was a dilemma of richs," Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman Jill Derby told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "There were some challenges because of the fantastic turnout, but we're thrilled with that."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-01-20-08 2107EST