Nevada Legislature Passes Bill Replacing Caucus With First-In-Nation Primary

Topline

The Democratic-controlled Nevada state legislature on Monday took a major step towards replacing the state’s presidential caucus with the first primary election of 2024 – though the latter change faces obstacles in both New Hampshire law and national party rules.

Key Facts

AB126, which passed the state assembly 30-11 on Thursday, passed the state senate 15-6 on Monday and now heads to the desk of Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat who has expressed support.

Former U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has pushed hard for Nevada to leapfrog New Hampshire and Iowa as the first presidential nominating state, as have some national Democrats who believe Nevada, with its substantial minority population, is more demographically representative of the party and the nation.

The bill was opposed by many Republican lawmakers, with Nevada GOP chair Michael McDonald arguing the move would subvert the power of political parties to set their own contests to “fix something that is not broken.”

The bill sets Nevada’s primary on the first Tuesday of February, which would have theoretically put the contest at the same time as Iowa’s caucus and a week ahead of New Hampshire’s primary in 2020 – except New Hampshire law requires the state’s primary to be seven days ahead of any “similar election” in another state.

The bill would also have to be accepted by the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee, which currently have rules likely prohibiting the primary from occurring so early.

Forbes has reached out to spokespeople for Sisolak, the DNC and the RNC for comment.

Big Number

300,000. That’s approximately how many votes were cast in the 2020 New Hampshire primary. That’s three times as many votes as the roughly 100,000 cast in the 2020 Nevada caucus, despite Nevada having more than twice the population. Unlike typical state-run primary elections, party-run caucuses involve lengthy meetings in which activists make the case for their candidates before caucus-goers vote, which can shut many potential voters out of the process.

Key Background

The move comes as part of a broader trend of states moving away from caucus after 2016, with ten caucus states moving to primaries in 2020, leaving just Iowa, Nevada, North Dakota, Wyoming and a handful of island territories as the last remaining caucuses.

Chief Critic

Though the move is meant to increase Nevada’s influence by giving it an outsized role in selecting presidential nominees, McDonald warned that the move is “likely to diminish” Nevada’s sway. McDonald pointed to the DNC allowing delegates from Michigan and Florida to have only half-votes at the 2008 Democratic Convention after the two states moved their primaries ahead of Super Tuesday in violation of national party rules.

Surprising Fact

National Democrats and Republicans could be sharply divided on how to respond to the move. Democrats have had ongoing discussions about pushing Nevada and South Carolina, home to DNC chair Jaime Harrison and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire. However, the GOP chairs of all four early primary states agreed in January to preserve the current calendar, according to the Des Moines Register.

What To Watch For

If the national parties determine the change is incompatible with their rules, the state could be forced to amend the law or face sanctions. Assembly Speaker Jason Fierson, the bill’s chief sponsor, has said he plans to interface with both national party leaders and officials in early primary states.

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