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Democrats set to try again at convention

Clark County Democrats are getting ready to do it all over again.

The county party’s second attempt to hold its convention is scheduled for Saturday. The process has been streamlined and the location moved in hopes of avoiding the chaos that shut down the original convention Feb. 23.

“We’re hoping that Saturday runs smoothly and people are in and out very fast,” said Kirsten Searer, deputy executive director of the Nevada Democratic Party. “I think, because the campaigns worked so closely with us and because we have the secure voting machines people are used to using, people will feel very confident.”

The state party has been working with the county party and the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama since the Feb. 23 disaster to craft a convention process that both campaigns feel is fair.

The county convention is the next step in electing delegates to the Democratic National Convention. The process began with the Jan. 19 caucuses, which drew a record 117,000 participants statewide.

The re-convention will be at the Thomas & Mack Center. A big part of the problem Feb. 23 was that the gathering was held in a ballroom too small to hold the more than 10,000 people who tried to attend. Attendees that day filled the parking garage at Bally’s and clogged highway traffic as they all tried to get in for the start of the convention.

Saturday’s event will be more like an Election Day than a convention, with polls open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Credentialed delegates can show up anytime in that window to cast votes on electronic machines on loan from the Clark County Election Department. Officials hope this will spread attendance out and preclude long lines or congestion.

There also will be fewer people trying to participate. On Feb. 23, thousands of vacant delegate slots were to have been filled at the convention with willing “alternates” who then could vote. The party invited all Democrats, and the campaigns urged all their supporters to help fill those slots.

This time, the campaigns and the party have filled all the slots in advance, and those qualified to vote have been sent secure delegate credentials. Only those people will be allowed into the convention.

There are 7,363 credentialed delegates, according to the state party. Of those, 4,088, or 55.5 percent, are Clinton delegates and 3,275, 44.5 percent, are Obama delegates. But none is bound to either candidate and can vote for whomever they choose.

The convention will be laid out along the Thomas & Mack concourse, with half the circular path taken up by registration stations. After registering, delegates will go to the 150 voting machines, where they have three votes to cast.

The first vote will be for presidential preference, Clinton or Obama. If the resulting percentages differ substantially from those going in, it could signal that Democratic voters are changing their minds about whom they prefer.

In the state’s other 16 counties, which successfully held their Democratic conventions Feb. 23, Obama came out with more support than he had received in the caucuses. Much of the shift appeared to come from former backers of John Edwards, who had dropped out of the race. But Edwards’ support in rural and Northern Nevada was more substantial than it was in Clark County, where he pulled less than 2 percent of precinct delegates.

After the presidential preference vote, Saturday’s delegates will vote for delegates to next month’s state convention in Reno, to which Clark County can send up to 2,463 delegates. This selection will be based on campaign-submitted slates of county convention delegates who want to be state delegates. The county delegates simply will vote yes or no on the slate of the candidate they prefer.

State delegates then will be assigned to each candidate in proportion to the preference poll. For example, if Clinton gets 55 percent of the vote in the poll, she would get 55 percent of the 2,463 state delegates, or 1,355. The first 1,355 people listed on the slate would become state delegates.

Clark County’s delegates make up the majority of the 3,385 delegates who can attend the state convention May 17-18, which will elect most of Nevada’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.

The third vote Saturday will be a yes or no on the previously drafted party platform.

The groups working to put the re-convention together say they have tried to accommodate everyone who deserves to be a delegate. There have been some complaints from people who were elected to be delegates Jan. 19 but then didn’t connect with the party or campaigns to get paperwork in order for Saturday.

Searer said that, as of Thursday afternoon, she knew of fewer than 10 such people. She said the party was talking to all of them to see whether they could be accommodated.

Michele Tombari, a 53-year-old Las Vegas Clinton supporter, said she feared being disenfranchised even though she was elected Jan. 19 and attended the Feb. 23 debacle.

On Wednesday, however, her problem was solved when the Clinton campaign contacted her and said another delegate had died and she could use his spot. Tombari was placated.

She said Thursday that she thought everyone working on the convention had good intentions, but that the task was simply too large. “There were just so many people who wanted to be involved,” Tombari said. “I am confused why we have to keep doing this, why we are voting over and over again. The caucus ought to switch to a primary.”

Clark County Democratic Chairman John Hunt, who took the brunt of the criticism over Feb. 23, declined Thursday to show the swagger that has been his hallmark. Instead, he voiced modest hopes for Saturday. “I hope it all goes smoothly,” he said.

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

 

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