Las Vegas Sun

December 20, 2014

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DEMOCRATIC TURNOUT:

Big numbers bring problems officials are happy to have

Statewide total of about 117,000 a stunner

Image

Sam Morris

Resort employees wait to caucus Saturday at Paris Las Vegas. Among problems at other sites: shortages of parking and supplies.

At 11 a.m. Saturday Cashman Center reverberated with the sound of 100 telephone lines ringing constantly with calls from the field.

The site was the organizational hub of the Nevada State Democratic Party, which was orchestrating about 5,000 volunteers throughout the state for the caucus. For the past year or so the party had been working toward this day. The national Democratic Party and a crush of reporters and cameras were watching to see how Nevada Democrats would perform. Their reputation was at stake, and at this moment things were not going well.

Caucusgoers throughout the state could not find parking. Lines stretched outside community centers and schools. Voters were packed into rooms, sometimes in violation of fire codes. Precincts ran out of presidential preference cards and voter registration forms. Some site leaders were confused about caucus rules.

And phone calls about all those issues were coming into Cashman Center, where volunteers worked through the disorder. A wall of curtains was set up to hide the chaos from journalists. Behind it volunteers took call after call, working computers.

“This is our first shot at this,” said Jill Derby, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, after the dust had cleared. “We knew there would be bumps in the road.”

The phones were silent by 11:30 a.m. Within hours, it was clear Sen. Hillary Clinton had defeated Sen. Barack Obama in this showdown.

Party officials were beaming because the problems, they say, were caused by a record turnout. Party officials had initially hoped that 40,000, about 10 percent of the state’s registered Democrats, would caucus. But then they started getting an inkling that turnout might be higher, said Kirsten Searer, state party spokeswoman. Voters came out in full force in Iowa and in New Hampshire, so it was assumed the same could happen here. And 50 volunteers staffing the phone lines Thursday and Friday were inundated with calls from Nevadans who wanted to caucus.

“It was like the two days before a general presidential election, not two days before a caucus,” Searer said.

In the end, about 117,000 Nevada Democrats took part in the caucus.

“We’re thrilled!” Derby said, noting that about the same number would have participated in a primary.

“Nevadans are excited,” she said. “They know it’s historic. Nevada has a major opportunity to determine who the (presidential) candidate is.”

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