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Hearing seeks to stop at-large caucus sites

Seeking to stop the Nevada Democratic Party from operating at-large precinct locations for Saturday’s presidential caucuses, attorneys representing the Nevada State Education Association on Monday filed a motion for an emergency hearing.

The teachers union is suing the party over the nine at-large precincts, which are special locations on the Strip where workers can caucus rather than going to their home precincts. With just four days until the caucuses, the union wants the court to act right away.

Meanwhile, political players lined up to take sides on the lawsuit Monday, with the notable exception of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Asked about the lawsuit at a news conference, the Nevada Democrat credited with bringing the high-profile early caucus to the state said: “No comment.”

In Monday’s motion, attorney Mark Ferrario is requesting that a federal judge schedule a hearing prior to Saturday or prevent the Democratic Party from moving forward with its plan.

“Plaintiffs request that this Court prevent the Party from proceeding with this unfair and illegal scheme,” the motion filed late Monday says.

Ferrario could not be reached for comment Monday.

The emergency motion argues that at-large precincts will be assigned more delegates than Clark County caucuses because those delegate assignments are based on attendance at the caucus rather than the number of registered voters in each precinct.

At-large precincts are treated as counties in and of their own, meaning that depending on attendance, one delegate could be assigned for every five participants. Individual caucuses within Clark County are assigned one delegate for every 50 voters.

“Thus, the At-Large Precincts will be assigned delegates at a rate of as much as ten times the rate as other caucuses in Clark County,” the motion says.

Without the at-large precinct locations, Clark County would have a total of 7,224 delegates attending the county convention. The nine locations will mean an additional 720 delegates will attend.

The delegates who participate in the county convention choose delegates to take part in the state convention, and the delegates at the state convention select delegates to send to the national convention, where the party’s presidential nominee is chosen.

In the emergency motion, Ferrario points out that at-large precinct locations are not offered for others who might be scheduled to work Saturday.

“Since the Party’s At-Large Precinct caucus rules treat one class of caucus participants more favorably than all other classes of caucus participants, the At-Large Precinct caucuses violate the Equal Protection clauses of the United States Constitution and the Nevada Constitution,” the motion says.

But Jill Derby, chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party, defended the party’s decision and noted that the creation of the at-large precincts was done with wide input more than six months ago.

“This has been a transparent process all the way through, vetted and approved at every level, clear up to the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. There isn’t anything that’s been a secret,” Derby said.

“We were very anxious to be inclusive and enhance participation from shift workers. We stand by that, we believe in that, we’re proud to put forth a plan to accommodate that.”

Derby noted that she was not the party chairwoman at the time the rules are drafted, but said the party’s greatest concern throughout the process was “where and when and what time could we have this caucus to include the most people.”

She pointed out that the Democrats have 520 caucus sites to make it convenient for people to get there, compared with just 113 Republican sites.

She said it’s “disappointing” that there are people other than Strip workers who will not be able to attend because they’re working, but “we’ve been encouraging employers to let everyone take the time off” to caucus.

There also may be some Strip workers who, despite the at-large precincts, still may not be able to leave their posts, she noted.

Some teachers who are members of the Nevada State Education Association and support Obama protested the lawsuit, saying it was an attempt stop union voters from caucusing for their candidate.

The 15 teachers stepped forward Monday to argue that their union is “putting politics ahead of what’s right for our students.”

Preventing at-large precincts would deprive many students’ parents who work on the Strip from participating in the caucus, according to the letter addressed to Lynn Warne, president of the association, and distributed by the Obama campaign.

“This lawsuit is all about politics,” the letter said. “It’s widely known that many of our union’s top officials support Senator Clinton and now that the Culinary Workers Union has endorsed Senator Obama, they’re using our union to stop Nevadans from caucusing for Senator Obama.”

District Judge Kent Dawson has recused himself from the case, which was re-assigned to District Court Judge James Mahan. A phone message left at Dawson’s office was not returned Monday.

Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at apacker@reviewjournal.com or (702) 384-8710.

 

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