Smooth GOP caucus boosts Nevada's case as early state
The lines snaked out the doors, throngs of voters crowded into high school cafeterias, and neighbors got into spirited arguments about whether Donald Trump would make a good president.
The Nevada Republican caucuses on Feb. 23 were loud and boisterous as usual, but are being billed as much more successful than last time, when it took three days to count ballots.
This year's results were final within hours and have yet to attract any formal complaints to the secretary of state's office. The process drew about 75,000 people, or about twice as many voters as in 2012 - a tally that could bolster Nevada's case to keep its coveted early vote status.
"We can shine when we need to," said Clark County Republican Party Chairman Ed Williams, whose organization and others worked with the Nevada Republican Party and Republican National Committee to organize the caucuses. "I think we've demonstrated that there is much less risk to having Nevada as an early state."
Other Western states are eager to snatch away Nevada's influential spot as the fourth in the nation to weigh in on the Republican presidential contest and the first in the West.
The privilege brings a steady string of candidate visits and copious media attention.
RNC officials could always decide to grant the placement to another state before the 2020 nominating process. Colorado touts some of the same selling points that make Nevada an attractive early state - an ethnically diverse population and a competitive balance of Democrats and Republicans.
Nevada's early status looked vulnerable after Republicans posted a paltry 8 percent turnout in the 2012 caucuses and after delegates bound to Mitt Romney defected to Ron Paul at the national convention.
"You have to show that you are capable of executing a very strong election," Steve House, chair of the Colorado Republican Party, said in an interview Monday. "If the election went well in Nevada, it would be hard to make a case against Nevada."
Williams said caucus organizers learned from their mistakes and improved the process this year. To alleviate crowding at caucus sites, they allowed participants to mark a ballot, submit it and leave at their leisure if they didn't want to stick around for speeches or delegate selection.
To cut down on time spent shuttling paper ballots to a central office, organizers had caucus site managers send images of precinct ballot tallies to headquarters using a commercial-grade texting service that can handle large files.
The RNC also invested more resources in Nevada than in years past, sending teams to train grassroots volunteers and handle communications with the press.
The Nevada Secretary of State's Office has received no reports so far of registered Republicans signing up as Democrats and participating in the caucuses of both parties. Leaders in both parties had issued stern statements discouraging people from exploiting the legally questionable loophole.
"The secretary of state's office has agreed to report any voters suspected of participating in both caucuses to the state Democratic and Republican parties," Nevada State Democratic Party spokesman Stewart Boss said. "And those voters may be subject to challenge and disqualification from further participation in the presidential nominating process."
Even though the caucuses exceeded many Republican observers' expectations, there were reports of confusion about how to caucus. Some say that makes a case for Nevada to move to a presidential primary - a proposal that generally increases turnout and is easier for voters to grasp but narrowly failed in the 2015 legislative session.
Some caucus sites ran out of ballots last week and needed extras delivered, while participants at Durango High School in Las Vegas appeared exasperated as they tried to decipher color-coded delegate election paperwork.
Las Vegas police had to ask two people wearing Ku Klux Klan-style outfits to leave the sidewalk in front of a caucus site, and pictures of them on social media sparked outrage.
Retiree Eduardo Madrid, 74, gave up on caucusing altogether. He and his wife wanted to support Donald Trump at Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas but said organizers told them their names weren't on the list for the site and it was unclear where they were supposed to go.
"This is our first caucus," Madrid said. "We're disappointed. This is not efficient."
Associated Press writer Sally Ho contributed to this report.
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