By Gary Smith
Changing to a Primary system offers Nevada the opportunity to become the “First in the West” state for the 2024 election, potentially even first in the nation, casting primary ballots before Iowa and New Hampshire. Both Democrats and Republicans have advocated for seeking “First in the West” status. Being early in the Primary calendar can significantly increase the importance of Nevada’s Primary election, and increases the amount of campaign focus Presidential candidates will put on our state.
But is it the right direction for Nevada? To select political candidates Nevadans are again debating whether to continue using a Caucus system, or switching back to a Primary system. There have been discussions in previous years but nothing was moved forward. Technically, we currently use a three-phase system: a Caucus in February or March for the presidential race, a Primary in June for everything else, then the General Election itself in November.
In a Caucus, attendees participate in-person at a designated place and time–no exceptions, no absentees. Caucus participants declare their allegiance for their chosen candidate and present arguments in front of the other Caucus attendees. A Caucus attendee must spend several hours at the Caucus, possibly giving a speech to persuade other Caucus goers to vote for his/her candidate, then vote (sometimes several times) to determine the candidates who will proceed to the next level party convention (county, state, then national). The political party funds and manages the Caucus including qualifying Caucus attendees. The Caucus process is restricted to those who show up and many times the final candidates are the result of whomever makes the better speech.
Conversely, in a Primary, voters can cast a ballot at various times and locations, and absentee ballots may be utilized. The time obligation for Primary voters is minimal, and the process is inclusive of all eligible voters.
However, holding early Primaries would introduce multiple new problems, as well, which may outweigh the increase in political impact gained by being first. Having a Presidential Primary early in the campaign year puts a massive strain on local and state-wide races, creating a situation where small campaigns would have to start campaigning before Halloween and continue throughout the holidays. Aside from that being an undesirable time of the year to be campaigning, most downline ballot candidates would be unable to afford to campaign from an early Primary all the way to November if successful in the Primary.
Meanwhile there are national obstacles as well. New Hampshire law requires their primary date to be 7 days ahead of any other state.
Lastly, while Caucuses are paid for and organized by the political party, Primaries would be organized and paid for by the state. The state budget may not readily accommodate the additional expense.
So, while switching to early Primaries may sound good when compared to Caucuses and could raise the political importance of our state in upcoming national elections, it would come with some serious problems, none of which have easy answers.