Caucus chaos

Back in November, in what seems like ancient caucus history, I attended a precinct captain training session at Cashman Center.

Hundreds of volunteers arrived for what was slated to be a four-hour session. Another one was to follow later that Sunday night.

The huge group split into three workable ones, where Democratic Party officials took pains to not only explain the process but to pin down each volunteer's role in making the state's Jan. 19 presidential caucus successful. Index cards went around the room for questions, and everyone from seasoned activists to sitting state legislators filled out queries.

In a breakout session, state party Director Travis Brock tested the automated system the volunteers were to use to report results. Everyone heard the "Walgreens prescription refill lady" instruct the precinct captain what to enter.

The captains were told to bring tape and patience to their sites. They were given a checklist and admonished to attend a "mockus" or additional training if they needed it. One index card asked "What do I do if a ton of people show up at my site?"

Advice: Bring a neighbor or two to assist in the process, just in case. And be patient.

This was an unprecedented level of training on the Democratic side of the aisle, where even handing out tickets to a gala dinner outside the ballroom can prove a daunting task. Democrats are used to delays, snags, screw-ups and even outright incompetence.

Usually, after all is said and done and a few apologies are issued, what is remembered is the event.

Saturday was no different.

At Cimarron-Memorial High School, my precinct captain, Jane Heenan, had been designated the grand poohbah for the theater's numerous precinct meetings. She was tasked with ensuring all the caucuses went off on time and without too much trouble.

And, boy, was she needed to put out little fires. That left a small void in her own precinct, 2301. Two volunteers, who hadn't had the benefit of the official training, stepped up and did what they thought would work.

Was it a mess at times? You bet. Did everyone vote by 12:30 and have confidence in the process? You bet.

Cimarron-Memorial, like many sites, ran out of presidential preference cards. Heenan advised affixing the voter's sticker on a plain sheet of paper.

At 11:50 a.m., she became drill sergeant, warning each precinct in the theater that they needed to wrap up registration in 10 minutes.

The Hillary Clinton campaign's precinct captain assured the crowd, "We've got plenty of time. This isn't even supposed to start until noon."

By then the lines had gone down. Voters who were inadvertently given cards without stickers had gone through the line a second time. Those who got both a sticker and a card but didn't sign had gone through a third time.

New Democrats took their seats in the balcony area of the theater. Two Republican women, one black and one white, each said they were switching because they liked what Barack Obama said.

Was there intimidation? That would depend on which candidate you supported.

At 10:50 a.m., even before the actual caucus registration was to begin, a furious Clinton supporter stomped from the theater looking for someone "official" to yell at. Seeing my press badge, she explained how aggrieved she was because a party official had just informed her she couldn't carry her Hillary sign in.

"There's an Obama sign on the stage," she barked at the injustice. The Obama sign was flipped over.

Later, as voters queued up for another time, Obama field organizers came into the theater to check on their captains.

One middle-aged white man in the line announced he couldn't vote for Obama because "he's a Muslim."

An exasperated Obama organizer shook her head and again began answering. A chorus of Clinton and Obama voters joined her in dispelling the untruth. The man was unswayed and voted for Clinton.

If that was intended intimidation, it was shot down pretty quickly, just like the sign flap.

The bigger intimidation came in a petite form. Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, wearing a stylish black trench, worked the room.

Imagine just how powerful it must have been for voters at four at-large caucus sites who got to see Bill Clinton on caucus day. Intimidation? You bet.

Anecdotal evidence suggests some voters were turned off by the disorganization that greeted them when they arrived at their precinct meeting. Some walked away.

Indeed, Democratic "organization" can be off-putting to even the most faithful.

But it's hard to argue that real intimidation or real voter suppression took place, even if the Obama camp succeeded in drumming any up or if Bill Clinton said he witnessed it.

In the Nevada Democratic caucus, intimidation largely depends on what your definition of is, is.


Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at