How Nevada Election Officials Are Preparing for the Dueling Caucus and Primary

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week Nevada Republicans will have the chance to make their voices heard in the presidential election. But the political process has become complicated, with a separate caucus and a primary held just two days apart, a lawsuit and Republican candidates competing in differing elections. 

In October of last year, the Nevada Republican Party announced it would be holding a party-run caucus, despite the state being a presidential primary state thanks to a 2021 law that switched the state away from caucuses. Then-Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), who enacted the law, said at the time that the state was “sending a strong message that the Silver State is not only bucking the national trend of infringing on voting rights, but rather we are doing everything we can to expand access to the polls.”

Republicans decried the change, however, claiming that Nevada Democrats were trying to “force Republicans to change the way we choose our Presidential nominee, and allow out-of-state interests to interfere in the Nevada GOP nominating process.” The party went so far as to file a lawsuit seeking to strike down the bill, which a judge denied. An appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court is pending.

The Republican primary, which Nikki Haley is taking part in, will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 6. But just two days later will be the party’s caucus, in which former President Donald Trump is participating. Oddly, it will only be the results of the caucus that matter on a technical level, since the Nevada GOP has chosen to award its delegates based on the caucus results.

Given all of these intricacies, voters have understandably been confused and seeking clarity on the process. Democracy Docket spoke to election officials in five Nevada counties who outlined the work they are doing to keep voters informed and ensure as smooth of an election process as possible.

We asked five election offices if they have received messages of concern or confusion from voters, four of which said their offices did receive messages of confusion from voters (one did not respond directly to that question). Three of them added that their offices were receiving daily calls and walk-ins seeking clarity on the two elections. Scott Hoen, the clerk recorder for Carson City — the state capital that leans Republican — said voters’ questions included whether they can vote in both the primary and caucus (they can), why Trump is not on the primary ballot and where voters’ precincts are located. Hoen added that it was the Republican Party that set the rules on how their candidates participate in the caucus and that “they haven’t done a good job educating their voters about that.”

Officials layed out the numerous ways they are trying to prepare for the elections and alleviate these issues. Nichole Stephey, county clerk of White Pine County — a predominantly Republican county in eastern Nevada — said the county has sent voter information letters, flyers and postcards. Staci Lindberg (R), the county clerk treasurer of another red county, Lyon County — added that the county has sent out sample ballots to all registered voters to give them an idea of what to expect. 

Since the caucus is not run by the party and not the state or county, the election officials can’t provide voters with information about the caucuses; however they can provide information from the GOP on the matter if asked. The difference between the two elections was reiterated by multiple officials, who explained that their offices are legally bound to hold the primary and that the caucus, which is also legally being held, is solely accountable to the Republican Party.

Republican-leaning Douglas County is doing much of the same as the others, sending out flyers and sample ballots to all registered voters along with compiling a set of templates to be used in response to voter questions, according to county treasurer Amy Burgans (R). Among the templates is a guide on how to connect to the local Republican headquarters for those with questions about the caucus. A representative for Clark County — one of the more Democratic counties in the state and home to Las Vegas — also said that sample ballots were sent out to all registered voters.

Hoen explained that Carson City worked to educate their nearly 100 election workers on how to better communicate with others, coordinated with a local newspaper to run stories about the primary and caucus, provided sample ballots and more.

When asked whether they felt confident that the state’s upcoming elections would run smoothly, most officials did not respond directly but all of them assured that everything was being done to ensure a successful process.

Burgans asserted, “[o]ur office places the utmost importance on the election process. I will ensure that this election cycle is conducted professionally, impartially, and transparently to guarantee that every voice is heard,” an almost identical response to Lindberg who told Democracy Docket, “[o]ur office places the utmost importance on the election process. We will do everything to ensure that this election cycle is conducted professionally, impartially, and transparently to guarantee that every voice is heard.” Clark County’s office similarly said that they “have the greatest confidence in our elections process.”

Both Hoen and Lindberg also pointed to the burden on taxpayers who have to fund a non-binding primary election since the GOP has decided to give all the state’s delegates to the winner of the party-run caucus, and not the primary. Lindberg argued that if a party chooses to caucus, the law should be changed so that the secretary of state and counties do not have to run an adjacent primary, adding that parties “can choose to either caucus or participate in the [primary] but should be at the expense of the Parties not the Taxpayers, for either process they choose.” 

Get background on the controversy here.