CARSON CITY — Unexpectedly high numbers of Republicans and Democrats turned out to vote Saturday in Carson City and adjacent Douglas County in the first-in-the-West party caucuses for president.
Caucus-goers grumbled about organizational problems, but many were happy to take part in the historic event.
At the Carson Senior Center, one of two GOP caucus locations in the capital, more than a thousand people lined up in the frigid morning air to get the chance to have a say in who will be the Republican nominee for president.
Because of the huge turnout, GOP party officials in the capital city changed course early on, letting people vote and leave rather than try to fit all the voters into the large but limited space.
Volunteers were impressed with turnout.
“I think it is important the rank and file get involved, that’s what it’s all about,” said GOP volunteer Joe DiLeonardo.
Nine miles down U.S. Highway 395 in Douglas County, caucus volunteers reported turnouts of three times the expected number. Officials with both parties scurried to find copying machines to ensure there were enough ballots.
“This is overwhelming,” GOP caucus chairman Rodney Snead said. “We were given only 51 ballots. Today, we don’t have a handle on anything and we don’t know what we are doing.”
Snead, however, managed to survive, completing his caucus in 90 minutes.
Still, many residents expressed disgust with the caucus process and demanded the party hold presidential primaries. Past caucuses have only drawn a handful of residents so most were new to the process and didn’t understand why party officials were tending to other business before the vote.
They wanted a simple voting process, Snead said.
Douglas County Commissioner Kelly Kite responded to their concerns by pointing out Nevada has historically had little say in the selection of past presidents.
The caucus “gives Nevada a say in what GOP candidate goes on the ballot,” Kite added.
Sally Mooney said she turned out to vote for Mitt Romney, who won the state for the GOP.
“I think if he can clean up the Salt Lake City Olympics he can also clean up our economy,” she said.
Mooney said she enjoyed participating, but thought the caucus could have been more organized.
Only a handful of people under age 30 were among the voters at the GOP caucus in Douglas County.
“A lot of us have jobs and couldn’t get off work,” said 19-year-old Dennis Sanders, who took a day off his job as a lifeguard so he could vote.
But at the Democratic caucus across the street there was a large contingent of young people, including teenagers supporting Barack Obama.
One was 17-year-old Tanya Miles, a high school senior who took advantage of the Democratic decision to allow same-day registration. Miles will be old enough to vote in the general election.
“Obama is really making an effort to connect with the younger generation and he doesn’t talk like a politician,” she said. Just before she cast her vote, her parents cast their own votes in the GOP caucus. Then they put political differences aside and walked across the street to observe the Democratic caucus in a show of support for their daughter.
In quintessential Nevada style, two caucus races in small northern towns came down to a draw of the cards.
At the Jacks Valley Elementary School in Genoa, the number of votes in District No. 5 were split: Hillary Clinton and Obama were tied with 26 votes apiece.
According to state Democratic Party rules, caucus chair Nancy Downey shuffled up a deck of cards, ironically with “Hillary” on the back, and spread them out on a table with fold-up legs.
A Clinton backer drew a five. An Obama supporter pulled out a king. The crowd whooped.
Obama earned two delegates, while Clinton got one.
“Only in Nevada,” said Clinton backer Greg Kuntz, a 45-year-old special education teacher in South Lake Tahoe.
A similar Old West tiebreaker played out at Zephyr Cove along Lake Tahoe, where the two candidates tied 24-24. Again the Clinton camp drew a five only to be trumped by a nine.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.