CARSON CITY — The Nevada Senate voted Tuesday to scrap its caucus system for choosing a preferred presidential candidate in favor of a primary election to be held in February.
Senate Bill 421 was passed 11-9 vote and now goes to the Assembly, where its fate is uncertain.
A key backer of the measure, state Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said Nevadans are uncomfortable meeting in small groups and airing their candidate preferences openly, as is done in a caucus. Instead, Settelmeyer said, they’d rather make their selections privately at the ballot box.
Democrats opposed the bill, arguing it wasn’t needed and would upset Nevada’s election calendar.
Under the measure, the primary would be held on the last Tuesday in February, a date that preserves Nevada’s clout as one of four early-voting states. But the Democratic Party could opt out of the primary by giving advance notice.
The move is seen as a way to appeal to more Republican voters and lessen the influence of grassroots party activists.
In 2012, Mitt Romney won Nevada’s GOP caucus, getting 50 percent of the caucus vote. But some members of the Nevada delegation broke ranks at the national convention, voting to nominate former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. That accentuated a longstanding rift within the Nevada Republican Party between conservatives and moderates.
Democrats said Republicans pushing for a primary were trying to manipulate the election process as a way to corral their own party members.
“We’re talking about folks who have gone rogue in their own party,” said state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas.
Besides presidential politics, SB421 would also shake up state and local politics by moving the state primary, now held on the second Tuesday in June, to February.
Judicial candidates would file for office in September the year before an election. Candidates for other offices would file in November — a full year ahead of the next general election.
“I don’t want people knocking on my door at Thanksgiving,” said state Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas. “I don’t want people knocking at my door at Christmas.”
See all of our coverage: 2015 Nevada Legislature.