Saturday, January 19, 2008

Home Means Nevada

I admit I'm a bit depressed over the Nevada caucus, not only because of John Edwards' poor showing, but also because of the whole caucus system in general. It's a really nutty system. A regular primary vote, the kind we are all familiar with from having voted in general elections, allows you to walk into your polling station, sign in, show ID, vote in privacy, and leave. No one is yelling at you, blowing whistles, herding you around, and trying to persuade you to change your vote. You, as a voter, are expected to have already done your homework by the time you arrive at your poll on election day, and be prepared to mark, punch, or tap your choice. Most polls stay open for 12-hours on election day. Not so with caucusing.

Here is my sister's experience in the bizarro world of caucusing in Las Vegas (email paste):

"I arrived at my neighborhood caucus location promptly at 11AM. The whole situation felt unorganized. No one knew how to tell what precinct you were in. Everytime I asked someone, they kept telling me to consult the map. There was no map to be seen. I wandered around for 10-minutes trying to find out where to go. Finally, I figured out where my line was & got in place. I helped out quite a few other aimless souls who could not get any direction from the caucus coordinators who were all volunteers and not very well trained. The guy manning our precinct was very loud & angry; he had absolutely no patience with anyone. Most of his answers were, "I don't know" or "I really don't care, I'm just a volunteer". I could hear angry people yelling at any volunteer who would listen that they don't know where to go, where are the maps, why is this so confusing? While standing in line, we were all solicited for donations from the "Nevada State Democratic Party". After we signed in and got a "presidential preference card", we were allowed to sit down. On one side of the card you mark your first choice & on the other side your second choice.

"The caucus itself started 25-minutes late. To my horror, the same frustrated angry volunteer we checked in with was the one up on stage telling everyone what to do. We listened to him calling our state Nevader and referring to us as Nevadians . According to him, this was a "qwockcass". Well, better than "carcass", the body of a dead animal, which was about how we were starting to feel. This outside surrogate kept pushing his almost unintelligible views on us until the caucus coordinators literally yelled at him to back off!

"The captains split everyone up into your first choice group which could include undecideds. I went to the Edwards group where there were only 8 people, out of about 130 total in my precinct. They counted up the groups & said, you need 20 people to be a "viable" candidate (15%?). After the first grouping, all the undecided people and the unviable candidate people were asked to sit in one section to be harrassed by the Obama and Clinton people to join their group. No one mentioned anything about our second choices which we had already marked on our "presidential preference cards", so what was the purpose of that?

"We listened as various people persuaded us about Obama and Clinton. The folks that spoke on behalf of Obama sounded pretty good. But then a woman got up & spoke on behalf of Clinton and really blew everyone away. She was very professional, she knew her stuff, and she really connected with the people. When they did a final count, it was Obama 45, Clinton 70, and undecided 3. (DK note: what happened to the other 12 people? Did they think they had already voted & left?)

"The whole thing took over 90-minutes. Do I need to say I prefer a regular Primary to this? Out of all my "neighbors" at my "neighborhood caucus", I only recognized 1 from our block, 2 church ladies, and a guy from work. I heard a lot about "Change", but only saw disorganization. " ~~ submitted by KKC

Observation of a caucuser reported in Las Vegas Review-Journal tonight: Clinton supporters who signed in voters would not sign in Obama supporters. Then Obama supporters were told they could leave after turning in their ballot. Doesn't this mean they weren't around for the final count?

Another caucuser sent this into the Las Vegas Review-Journal: No one seemed to know their precinct number. Volunteers kept referring to maps which no one could find. We heard later there were two maps, but we never saw them. We more or less organized ourselves into lines for signing in.

The R-J reports there were 200 separate troubling incidents at caucus sites in Clark County Nevada, including doors being closed early and ID being requested in a non-uniform fashion. Even the Big Dog himself roamed The Strip, using the full weight and majesty of a former president to persuade Culinary Workers to defy their bosses' endorsement of Obama.

For a "fun" report live from one of the famous Las Vegas Strip caucus locations, don't miss Wonkette's Live Blogging Nevada Caucus at The Wynn Hotel: link This is a friggin' hilarious democracy we got ourselves. Look at her linked pictures & vid, too. What a way to vote!

OK, so how to analyze the results? The good news is that 2 of every 3 Nevadans who caucused, chose a Democrat instead of a Republican for President. This is an overwhelming vote for a new direction in America. The final results were: Clinton 51%, Obama 45%, and Edwards 4%.

Some insight into the Obama results might be obtained by looking at the county-by-county results. Obama won these counties: Carson City (capitol of Nevada) 51%, Churchill 49%, Douglas 50%, Elko 63%, Esmeralda 63%, Eureka 49%, Humbolt 51%, Pershing 48%, Storey 54%, Washoe (where Reno is) 50%, and White Pine 45%. Clinton won the other 6 counties, with the biggest prize being Clark County (where Las Vegas is). It seems she won Clark County by having a superior organization and professional surrogates. Obama did better in the northern part of the state which is a bit odd to me, since that part of the state tends to be more conservative.

I hate to point this out, but another thing that worked in her favor was having Saturday caucuses where you had to show up by 11 AM. The reason I hate to point this out is the tremendous support Obama has among students, who as I well remember from my college days, are prone to sleep in on Saturdays. Perhaps I'm being too harsh. Tell me I'm wrong.

But how to explain Edwards' poor showing? Last week's polls had him at 29%. A couple days ago, he had dropped down to the 'teens. Why did his support dissipate? Can we really blame this on the media for unjustly narrowing people's minds down to only looking at the top 2 candidates? I believe there is some truth in this because people generally don't want to vote for an unviable candidate (just ask Kucinich). But I also wonder if the caucus system itself isn't really to blame. There is much peer pressure from the moment you arrive. You are being asked to stand out in a way that normal primary voters are not. Then you are expected to try and persuade others to stand with you. Do caucus states think people are incapable of making up their own minds?

Lastly, about Edwards: CNN quoted entrance polls of 12-18% of caucusers saying as they went into their caucus location that they were going to caucus for Edwards. Their resolve seems to have disappeared as they entered the caucus rooms and saw the larger crowds for Obama and Clinton. This is very disappointing, but perhaps inevitable. I had hoped for a better showing, so that he would keep accumulating enough delegates to affect the convention. Would a normal primary have yielded Edwards enough votes in Nevada to award him delegates? We'll never know for sure. Super Tuesday is looming large on the horizon.

Click here for the current Democratic delegate scorecard (which includes committed super delegates).

******** Non-Nevadans can skip the balance of this post, it won't make any sense to you unless you sang it everyday in elementary school. Instead of reading it, might I suggest a practice session in pronouncing Nevada? Neh-VA-duh! The "VA" rhymes with bad, dad, or lad; it's not "aw" like "awful". I can't tell you how many earaches I have after hearing it butchered by the TV pundits all week. ********

OK, for old-times sake, and for my Nevada family, here is the Nevada State Song (aren't you glad you don't have to listen to me sing it):

Home Means Nevada (cue the harmonica):
Way out in the land of the setting sun, Where the wind blows wild and free,
There's a lovely spot, just the only one That means home sweet home to me. If you follow the old Kit Carson trail, Until desert meets the hills, Oh you certainly will agree with me, It's the place of a thousand thrills.
Home means Nevada, Home means the hills, Home means the sage and the pine. Out by the Truckee's silvery rills, Out where the sun always shines. Here is the land which I love the best, Fairer than all I can see. Deep in the heart of the golden west, Home means Nevada to me!
Whenever the sun at the close of day, Colors all the western sky, Oh my heart returns to the desert grey, And the mountains towering high. Where the moon beams play in shadowed glen, With the spotted fawn and doe, All the live long night until morning light, It's the loveliest place I know.
Home means Nevada, Home means the hills, Home means the sage and the pines. Out by the Truckee's silvery rills, Out where the sun always shines. There is the land that I love the best, Fairer than all I can see. Right in the heart of the golden west, Home means Nevada to me!


Fran said...

Yp, the Caucus race is much like the one in the Alice in Wonderland story, with a Dodo bird running about, until they were not wet anymore & then they said it was over. You could not tell who had won.

What a funky process.... who could blame the college kids for sleeping in?
Why is it some states have caucuses and other's primaries?
A caucus seems like an insult to your intelligence, and a disorganized waste of time.

South Carolina had electronic voting machine troubles today... a precursor of things to come?

D.K. Raed said...

Hey Fran, I was just online editing this piece. Had a bad link to Wonkette's live caucus blog (read it, it's funny) & had to correct some grammer.

I don't know why ANY state would choose to caucus. It would probably be fine for a very small area with a small population ... the kind of place where everyone would just show up & raise their hands to be counted ... like the Senate. It really does put a lot of pressure & stress on the quiet, unassuming types. The loud boisterous ones get off on bullying people. Feh!

The college kid sleeping-in theory is just my thought. I haven't heard anyone seriously propounding it. I hope I'm wrong, because I don't want to really think they could be so fired up the night before & then fail to follow through. I hope they are NOT Dodo-birds!

enigma4ever said...

depressing isn't it...the whole damn read From the Left- he has a post up- and it turns out that Obama did win the Delegate count...if that helps at all......

That thing about CLinton people telling people to leave- that is awful....

we should just have primaries and paper counts...period...

D.K. Raed said...

Enigma, the delegate count will be apportioned in April, and will probably be 13 for one & 12 for the other. Clinton spins this as a BIG win. Well, OK, Obama would've probably done the same thing if it'd gone his way. But still, this whole caucus thing ... I don't think it really tells anyone who the voters of the state want. It suppresses the will of the people & seems very UNdemocratic. Not to mention, MESSY as hell.

Fran said...

Speaking of paper counts- when electronic voting machines went haywire in SC, they actually did go to paper- any scrap they could get their hands on & McCain was trying to appeal to the courts to extend the election closing time due to the problem. What is it about writing your vote on a piece of toilet paper that makes these primary elections seem to be going down the flusher?

* I don't know for fact they actually used toilet paper, but they may as well have.

"We have received reports from Horry County that voters are being turned away from the polls, because electronic voting machines are not working and paper ballots are not available,” Buzz Jacobs, McCain’s South Carolina state director, said in a statement. “Some voters say they are being instructed to return at a later time. We are disturbed by these reports and hope that this issue is resolved immediately. We encourage any voters who were turned away from the polls to return again to their polling place this afternoon to exercise their constitutional right to vote."

Malfunctioning voting machines plagued Horry County, which contains the cities of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. "Human error" put the machines offline in 80 percent of the county's precincts during Saturday's voting, according to county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier

By 4 p.m. ET, only about four of the county's 118 precincts were without a working machine, Bourcier said. Polls closed at 7 p.m. ET.

The campaign of GOP contender Sen. John McCain had sought to obtain a court order to extend voting in the northeastern county by an additional hour but were unable to do so. McCain did very well in Horry County when he ran for president in 2000.

Bourcier said that voters in the affected precincts used paper ballots and any scrap of paper available to cast their votes. She said the county was bringing in 40 to 50 extra people to count ballots after polls close, and, she said, officials were aware that an order extending voting hours was possible.

Bourcier said the problem was caused by "human error." The last step in preparing the machines for Election Day is a "clearing" test that resets the machine data to zero. That test was not done on most of the machines, which locked them and made them unable to function, she said.

My question is why do we even still have these machines?

D.K. Raed said...

Fran, I'm with you, though I always feel like a bit of Luddite in denouncing electronic voting machines. If the precincts are divided up small enough, paper ballots shouldn't be a problem for either voting or counting. I never had a problem with punchcards either (but then I always checked mine to make sure the holes were clean). One thing's for sure, the electronic supposed problem-solver has created and exacerbated voting problems to a point now where we simply don't trust the system at all.

Let's hope the dems in SC are busy correcting the problems right now so next Saturday goes easier for them. I don't want to see toilet paper & invisible ink pens handed out, but people do ALWAYS have the option of voting a provisional ballot, which is paper & has to be hand-counted. Or absentee.

Gryphen said...

I believe that electronic voting is he future, but the process needs to be transparent, foolproof, and not left in the hands of a company that promises to help the Republicans win the Presidency. I'm sorry is that too much to ask?

Actually I think that we all be able to vote from the comfort of home on our own computers. I know that this is rife with possible shenanigans, but perhaps if we were to REALLY punish those caught engaging in election fraud we make it much less attractive.

Think of how huge the voter turnout would be if we could simply click a button or two on our laptop.

Newsguy said...

Nice reporting. If only the networks did half this amount of investigation and publication.

D.K. Raed said...

thanks for enduring my caucus rant. Because of the electronic diebold repub-biased vote count probs, I'm not sure we can ever trust them again. I agree we need to increase voter turn-out, but not sure about the home computer (or better yet, TV remote) thing. Maybe some sort of compulsory voting (like Australia enjoys) might work. Dare I even think of offering a national election day lottery? whoah, just think, another multi-millionaire who could enjoy tax cuts for the wealthy being created every election! Seems like a win-win to me (therefore, it will never happen).

Coming from you, that is high praise indeed! 'Twas my sister who provided the excellent eyewitness report. I only attemped the half-baked analysis. I realize NV is a small-pop state with few delegates. Its importance in the general election may be more pronounced since it is one of those "swing states".

Cartledge said...

i find the caucus process a source of constant amusement. The variants are fascinating. In fact I think changing the rules of engagement each day would give the Australian Open Tennis a little more buzz and excitement. :)

D.K. Raed said...

Cartledge: I'm wondering how long this Aussie Tennie goes on? Seems like it's all I'm seeing on the TV for days & days now. Of course, that's because of my hub's fascination with all things tennis. He records hours of it & then zips through the boring bits. Now, he's threatening to make me go whack a few volleys with him this week. Last time we tried this, it didn't go too well. I don't think a power-driven tennis ball belongs in the middle of my forehead.

Cartledge said...

I dare not ask any of the tennis fans here when it ends. Life is too short as it is without hastening the end :)
I'll have to get you enthusiastic about cricket then you can force that on him...

D.K. Raed said...

Hah! I'm sure if I mentioned Cricket around here, I would get the same response as if I had mentioned zzzyxxx (just a made-up nonsense word). But hey, if cricket is less likely to result in head injuries, I'll investigate! I wouldn't have thought tennis could be so brutal & was totally unprepared for the speed of the ball. Hub hasn't played seriously in yrs, but his serve is still killer & he's still apologizing.

Cartledge said...

I expect you wouldn't be much interested in apologies, or anythinh else, if you were hit in the head by a cricket ball.

TomCat said...

DK, excellent report. Clinton workers refusing to register non-Clinton voters was despicable, as was Union bosses telling non-Obama voters that they couldn't vote if not for Obama. I guess Edwards was the only one who played it clean. Personally, I consider the caucus system undemocratic, as I believe that voters have the right to vote in secret, in private, with no pressure from anyone.

D.K. Raed said...

Cartledge: ain't it da truth.

Tomcat: Hear, Hear (clap, clap, clap)! I always thought the private vote thing was crucial to revealing the true will of the people. And I've suspected that some of our own presidents may have voted for their opponents in the privacy of the voting booth, knowing in their hearts they themselves were not the best suited (these would be the few non-megalomaniac ones). Just you and your conscience there in the voting booth.

My dad tells me at his NV precinct, when the Edwards supporters saw how few they were (not viable), and were told to caucus with Obama or Clinton, they walked out of the caucus. Maybe this says something about the non-herd mentality of the Edwards caucusers or maybe something about their stubborness. I don't know if the caucus system allows us to find out the number of people who showed up & voted for Edwards on the first ballot, but that would be useful info. And these were just the people who showed up to caucus; many stayed home rather than deal with yelling screaming crowds. I wonder how many times that happened?

Cartledge said...

Oh dear, you got me thinking with this one Red. I gave you some credit.