By Christy Ross
In a cheery kindergarten classroom at Mountain View Elementary School, I joined 20 of my Elko neighbors to caucus in the Nevada Democratic primary on February 20. Fourteen of us (including myself) stood among the low tables and tiny chairs on the right side of the room to indicate our support for Bernie Sanders and the six Hillary Clinton supporters sat on or near a low counter along the left wall. One older gentleman stood in front of the whiteboard near the center of the room—undecided. Two of the Bernie supporters held babies, and two of their older children played on the floor between our two factions.
Both sides voted to engage in a fifteen minute debate of the candidates, though we could have skipped directly to the vote. Our debate centered on who was more electable, what each candidate could get done, and what the groundswell of anti-establishment feeling meant in the Democratic race.
Each side felt passionately that the other side would lose against the Republican candidate. The Hillary supporters thought Bernie wouldn’t get enough done, and we thought they’d both face similar challenges. We didn’t think Bernie was a miracle worker, but we feared that Hillary would compromise too much—conceding more ground to the right when our policies and discourse have already been pushed too far. While the Hillary supporters dismissed Trump, saying he was not a threat, the other side thought that Bernie was the antidote to Trump—that he tapped into the frustration all Americans were feeling with corruption, destruction of the middle class, and crushing income inequality.
At the end of the debate time, the undecided gentleman surprised us all—perhaps even his wife who supported Hillary—and voted for Bernie.
This is democracy in America.
And if this were a movie, the story would end there. With the tally at 15-6, the moderator broke out the calculator. After the formulas were run and the rounding was done, 15-6 turned into 1-1, and Precinct 6 split its two delegates right down the middle.
This is also democracy in America.
And it needs to change. There is nothing so profoundly disheartening as spending over three hours of your time trying to participate in your government and then seeing your vote thrown away in front of your eyes because of math. I am a lifelong voter (though because I only recently moved to Nevada this was my first caucus) and I left that room feeling, for the first time, that my vote truly didn’t matter.
Late that evening, as I watched the numbers come in, I kept getting distracted by the results of the Republican primary in South Carolina. I watched with growing alarm as it became clear that Trump—who the Hillary supporters were sure posed no threat—would win by a large margin. Then, on February 23, when the Republican caucus was held here in Nevada, Trump won again. And he drew people out to caucus in droves—turnout among the Republicans was over 75,000, up from about 33,000 in 2008. In contrast, only about 80,000 Democrats caucused in Nevada, down from 120,000 in 2008.
And that scares me.