Nevada caucuses: State GOP rolls snake eyes
LAS VEGAS – The biggest loser in Nevada’s Republican caucuses? The state’s feckless GOP.
Unable to control how its county parties count and report results, state Republicans were scrambling Sunday to explain why, almost 24 hours after most caucuses ended, the votes still have not been counted.
Here in Clark County, home to two-thirds of the state’s population, officials counted ballots, by hand, until 4 a.m. before calling it a night. Counting resumed again at 9 a.m. By 11 a.m. local time Sunday, only half of the county’s ballots had been counted.
“About midway through the night I said, ‘This is ludicrous,’” state GOP Chairman Amy Tarkanian said Sunday morning. “So I sent my state party people down there, including my husband, and said, ‘Go help them count, this is crazy.’”
Tarkanian, whose husband is Danny Tarkanian, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP Senate nomination in 2010 and who is seeking the nomination in a new congressional seat, said state and county officials are seeking to avoid a situation like what happened in Iowa, where two weeks after voting ended the state party announced that it was Rick Santorum, not Mitt Romney, who won the state.
With second place still undecided between Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul — a consequential matter since delegates are awarded proportionally here — Tarkanian said she wants to avoid looking bad, as did her Iowa counterparts when they finally announced new results long after their contest ended.
But it may already be too late for that — unlike Iowa, Nevada hasn’t even reported nearly complete results yet.
Chuck Muth, a former Nevada GOP executive director, wrote on his blog that the night was the “Nevada GOP’s national embarrassment.”
“You can say this about Nevada Republicans: they are consistent,” Muth wrote. “They never blow an opportunity to blow an opportunity. And hoo-ahhh … did they ever blow this one!”
Clark County GOP Chairman Dave Gibbs did not return messages left on his cell phone Sunday morning.
By all accounts, the night was a foreseeable disaster, months in the making.
The county party leaders rebuffed the state party’s wishes for a streamlined method of delivering results and state officials here don’t have sufficient clout to order the local officials around.
Then state officials planned to release results via Twitter — eschewing the traditional means of distributing them through The Associated Press for a method they had not yet tested. Cooler heads ultimately prevailed and the AP was given access to initial numbers, but the @nvgop Twitter feed through which results were streamed developed a relatively scant following — just over 2,000 followers as of Sunday morning.
It didn’t help matters that, due to redistricting, the county clerks in Clark and Washoe counties — the population hubs where Las Vegas and Reno are located — renumbered all of the local precincts last month. So voters in the state’s two largest cities were confused about where to caucus.
The new precinct numbers led to significant reporting problems, said Tarkanian and James Slack, the incoming state party chairman who will take over for Tarkanian whenever the caucus process is completed.
When Washoe County, the state’s second largest, submitted its results to the state party — via an emailed Microsoft Excel spreadsheet – its columns didn’t properly line up with the template the state party submitted to the counties, Tarkanian said.
So initial results submitted to and reported by the AP were wrong and had to be corrected. Slack said even if individual precinct numbers in Washoe are incorrect, he expressed confidence the sum total is accurate.
Slack said there were voters throughout the Reno and Las Vegas areas who didn’t know where to caucus and, when results were submitted to the state party, precinct numbers didn’t always match the caucus sites.
“There was some confusion at the caucus sites, and now the confusion is that some of the numbers that are showing up for precincts, we don’t have any votes for them,” Slack said. “So we don’t know if nobody voted or if it’s precinct number is one that that should have been disposed of.”
Tarkanian said she was helpless to fix the obvious problems.
“There are a number of things that I wanted done differently, but the counties fought me tooth and nail on it,” Tarkanian said. “The counties all felt that they knew what was best for the counties. So the state party threw up its hands and said, ‘Fine, do it.’”
The first obvious sign that the Nevada caucuses could go off the track came in October, when Tarkanian announced the caucus would be held in February, then changed the date to January and then, after New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner threatened to move his state’s primary to December, conceded and moved the event back to February.
Then, a new development: last month, Clark County arranged for a special Saturday evening caucus for people unable to vote on Saturday morning because of religious observances.
Scheduled largely at the behest of billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson and held at a school named after him, the caucus was ultimately hijacked by Ron Paul supporters who, like others voting there, had to sign affidavits swearing they could not participate in the daytime caucus because of a religious conflict.
“It was the rule that was brought forward by Clark County Republicans,” Tarkanian said. “Once again the state party didn’t have the say-all.”
Former Nevada Gov. Bob List said Sunday that it may be time to consider switching from a caucus to a primary to “professionalize” the state’s presidential contest.
“I would hope that we can improve on it next time,” List told POLITICO. “This is the first time we really had a whole lot of scrutiny and a great deal riding on it. And we’re still getting our act together in a sense.”