They braved the frigid morning cold. They endured long lines. They put up with confusion and disorganization.
But by the end of the day Saturday, tens of thousands of Southern Nevadans went to their party caucuses, crowned their presidential hopefuls and helped put their state on the national political landscape.
“They called Nevadans politically unmotivated. I think we proved them wrong,” state Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said.
Nearly 116,000 Democrats caucused throughout Nevada, giving Sen. Hillary Clinton a comfortable victory in precinct delegates over Sen. Barack Obama. On the Republican side, more than 43,500 caucus-goers overwhelmingly chose former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. His closest competitors, Ron Paul and Sen. John McCain, finished far behind.
“It was a good day for Nevada,” said Eric Herzik, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. “It showed that Nevadans took this process seriously.”
Despite reports of chaos, confusion and irregularities at Democratic caucus sites throughout the valley, party officials lauded the state’s turnout, which exceeded even the most optimistic predictions.
“There was bound to be some confusion with that kind of massive turnout,” party Chairwoman Jill Derby said.
But such “bumps in the road” were not likely to have affected the vote significantly, she said.
Nevertheless, Obama’s campaign said it planned to investigate the more than 200 reports of caucus-site trouble it had received by late Saturday.
First-time caucus-goer Christie Kovello went to Helen Smith Elementary School looking for information to help her pick a candidate. She walked in undecided and walked out disgusted.
“This was the most disorganized, unruly thing I ever saw in my life,” the 50-year-old said.
Her precinct, 6013, ran out of paper ballots, and some people were allowed into the room after the noon cutoff, but Kovello’s biggest complaint came with the final vote tally. The woman running the count, who wore a Clinton shirt, failed to reshuffle the groups before taking the final vote, so Kovello and others never had a chance to pick a side, she said.
“She said, ‘That’s too bad. That’s the way it is. I’m closed,'” Kovello said.
The vote ignited a firestorm of screaming and yelling between Obama and Clinton supporters, said Kovello, who said she would file a formal complaint.
“This was my first experience with this, and it will probably be my last,” she said.
At Del Sol High School, 47-year-old Obama supporter Bill Haldeman doubted the legitimacy of his caucus’s results.
At least seven people, mostly Clinton supporters, who voted in his precinct told him they didn’t live in the area, yet the precinct chairman said it was OK, Haldeman said.
And it also seemed like nobody was in charge during the process, he said.
“I believe it was Will Rogers who said, ‘We’re not members of an organized political party, we’re Democrats,'” Haldeman said. “But did we have to prove it?”
Derby said people new to the process might view parts of the caucus as chaotic or intimidating. “A lot of people had no idea what to expect,” she said. “Democracy’s messy, and there are parts of the caucus process that people could have seen as pressure or chaos.”
Derby said higher-than-expected turnout was a good problem to have.
Some caucus-goers would disagree.
“This caucus is a zoo,” 82-year-old Rebecca Kinn said during the Democratic caucus at Sun City Summerlin’s Mountain Shadows Social Center.
Roughly 500 retirees from Sun City and residents of the nearby Desert Shores neighborhood crammed into a ballroom that some thought was far too small for the crowd, and many people left in disgust before the process started.
Many residents had to wait in a line that stretched out of the building and into the cold morning air, and when they finally got inside, all the seats were taken.
“Whoever came up with this should be shot,” a man shouted as he charged out.
During the caucus process, people complained about not being able to hear organizers’ instructions and not knowing what to do.
One man held up his ballot and shouted angrily, “Just pick up the cards and count them!”
“I am so confused,” a woman muttered as she shuffled along with her walker.
By the time it was over, many longed for the primary they were familiar with, while others wondered whether their vote was even counted.
Larry Nadler, a 45-year-old precinct captain for Obama, said he received three or four complaints from fellow Obama supporters that the volunteer who checked them in marked on their ballots that they were Clinton supporters. They had to scratch out the misplaced endorsement and check Obama’s name, he said.
At the East Las Vegas Community/Senior Center on Eastern Avenue near Stewart Avenue, at least 100 people stood in line for half an hour before being told where to go and what to do.
“It’s frustrating as hell,” said Lee Slaughter, 52, a John Edwards supporter who stood in line for at least 20 minutes.
Slaughter, who works nights at a hospital, said she was exhausted after being on her feet all day but wanted to take part in the caucuses.
Her husband, 65-year-old Ron Shy, said the event should have been better organized and the community center needed more volunteers.
At Cashman Middle School on Desert Inn Road near Decatur Boulevard, Democratic voters packed a cafeteria and filed into a gymnasium, but not before a man described as an out-of-state Clinton volunteer put a lock on the gym doors 30 minutes before they were to close.
A caucus organizer broke the lock and called police, who briefly detained the man.
Although disorganization appeared more severe at Democratic caucus sites, Republicans had their share of problems.
At Valley High School near Sahara and Eastern avenues, many people wandered the school not knowing where they were supposed to caucus, while others were sent to the wrong room.
“I was frustrated when I came in the door,” said Geneva Boley, 74, who was meandering through the hallways 10 minutes before the caucus was to begin.
She and her friend, 83-year-old Monica Smid, were first sent to room 220 but couldn’t find it. Eventually a volunteer told them room 220 didn’t exist and directed them to go to another room, where they both cast votes.
Locked doors were the issue at Clark High School. Precinct members there were herded into classrooms at 9 a.m., and most doors promptly locked at 9:15 a.m.
After being told he’d arrived too late to vote, one man flung an information card at a wall and bellowed, “Communist!”
Sue Pearson, 60, found herself locked out of the caucus because she was stuck in line at the front desk.
“It’s a sham,” she said.
The retired physician’s assistant said she had looked forward to participating in politics in a way that her demanding career with its odd hours had prevented her from doing. She said she was disappointed and hoped the system improves next time around.
At the same school, two men accused Zachary Moyle, the Nevada Republican Party’s executive director, of filling in two ballots for Romney.
Moyle said that the episode resulted from misperception and that he was only helping a couple of delegates fill in their ballots to speed things up.
After Child and another man confronted him, Moyle tore up the sheets he’d completed and told the voters they had to fill out the sheets themselves.
For other caucus-goers, such as Leah Scherr, the experience was positive. The 41-year-old former Army soldier, who caucused at Green Valley High School, said the process was a little confusing but would get better in the future.
“To me this is what America is about, having a voice,” Scherr said. “Everyone gets up there and talks to their neighbors about what they believe in.”
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at email@example.com or (702) 383-0281. Review-Journal staff writers Molly Ball, David Kihara, Lawrence Mower, Scott Wyland and Annette Wells contributed to this report.Caucus Day in Nevada slideshow