Reader E. O'Meara of Northern California has been emailing me about her adventures the past several days, canvassing for Bernie Sanders in Reno and training as a leader for this weekend's caucuses. With her permission, I am sharing her journey with Sardonicky readers. Some names, including that of the author, have been changed in order to protect their privacy. The emails have been very lightly edited.
I am working as a nurse practitioner in my local county jail, which has half its 400 population comprised of immigration detainees.
The volunteers did a good job of getting everyone who came to canvass into groups. My girlfriend, Karli and I were joined by a very cool retired Indian man (his bumper sticker said "Medicare for None" with the Romney/Ryan name and logo beneath it). We were sent to a very wealthy, very Republican area with lots of space between lots. We were unable to finish all the houses on our lists (I hit about 30 houses) before calling it a day. It was a pretty discouraging experience, canvassing that area.
Three interactions stand out.
The first one was a 74 year old woman who had been identified as a "lean Bernie" Democrat. I asked if she would be going to caucus, and she didn't hesitate to say "No. Bernie's too old".
The second one was at a house where a female voter had been identified as Independent, I think (for sure not Republican!). A ruddy-faced, mustached white male in his late 50's or older answered the door and wouldn't let me speak with the person in question. "I'm not voting for him because he's a socialist!" Okay, but may I speak to so-and-so? "We're not voting for him because he's a socialist!"
At a third house, I asked the man answering the door if he was going to the caucus. "No," he replied. "I'm going skiing."
Since tomorrow is a holiday (and I have it off because I belong to a union!), I am going to a caucus training at the Washoe County Democratic HQ. I will volunteer to work at the caucus next Saturday. I was told they have 600 precincts to oversee, and they won't have too many volunteers. Besides the usual stuff, they also need people to be on the lookout for illegal antics from the other side; they want people to record suspect behavior.
I went to a caucus training on Monday at the Washoe County Democratic HQ. I knew nothing about caucuses until this election. My girlfriend didn't even know Nevada had a caucus until this year.
People must be in attendance at a caucus to let their will be known. The window for being allowed to get into the caucus is very small: 11 am to 12 pm for Democrats on Saturday, Feb. 20. The Republican caucus is on Tuesday Feb. 23 in the evening (they have to bring photo ID, but the Dems don't). For the Dems, one must be inside or in line by 12 pm. Anyone arriving after that time doesn't get to participate.
After formalities, people get into groups depending on their chosen candidate. Some people may be undecided, and they get their own group. Using a mathematical formula based on allotted delegates for that precinct, the number of voters present, and the number in the individual groups, "viability" is determined. If a group is not viable, its members may decide to switch to a different group or not be part of one, after members of the other groups have a chance to convince them to go to their side. Once the viable groups have been set, the number of delegates they have won are determined based on a mathematical formula, then chosen from the group to go on to the county convention. (Interestingly, an undecided group can potentially be viable. It behooves each group to select their allotted number of delegates, because if they don't, the delegates that are then chosen by the Party don't get to go beyond the state convention. (It's county, state, then national)
Why a caucus over a primary? There is no way everyone who wants to participate can. Although a Saturday is preferable to a weekday, people must work. A one-hour window is seriously inferior to the 12-hr window when voting in person, or the days-long window for mail-in ballots. And what about voters who are home-bound? Agoraphobic? Not willing to sacrifice their weekend?
But I think I found out why: parties pay for the caucuses; taxpayers pay for the primaries. Nevada had a $500,000 bill one primary with a low turnout. Also, for whatever reason, the parties had wanted two early primaries and two early caucuses. Both of the primary slots and one caucus slot were already taken.
They need lots of volunteers to help with the 600 precincts in Nevada. We out-of-staters have been asked to show up at HQ at 9 am on caucus day and await instructions on where to go based on needs as they arise.
I'll write again after the Saturday caucus.