The Nevada caucuses — the third contest in the Democratic nomination process — are happening Saturday, with caucus locations opening at 10 am Pacific and the actual caucuses scheduled to begin at 12 pm Pacific (or 3 pm Eastern).
Sen. Bernie Sanders is widely viewed as the favorite to win the caucuses, but with polling being difficult and sparse, no one is entirely sure where things stand. Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are both hoping to revive their campaigns by performing strongly, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar are trying to prove they can win over nonwhite voters.
As with the Iowa caucuses, the results will be … complicated.
Like Iowa, there will be three sets of results reported out of Nevada. First there’s an initial round of voting. Then supporters of poorly performing candidates (who are below 15 percent in the precinct) can realign and switch to back someone else — following which, precincts will tally up the second and final vote total.
In each precinct, then, candidates get awarded county convention delegates based on how they did in the final vote total. Those county convention delegate totals get added up statewide, and that’s the main metric determining who “wins” Nevada and who will get its national delegates. We’ll track it live here as it comes in, thanks to our friends at Decision Desk, and the other results further down on this page.
As for when the results will come in — that isn’t entirely clear. Iowa Democrats were infamously plagued by problems including technical difficulties and didn’t report any caucus results until the next day. Nevada Democrats say their plan is to report results on caucus day, but if they encounter similar issues, it could take longer.
Indeed, Nevada faces an added complication as compared to Iowa — they’ve incorporated early voting in their caucuses this year. Nearly 75,000 Nevada Democrats already cast “ranked choice” ballots, ranking at least three and up to five candidates in order of their preference. So when each precinct caucus realigns, that precinct’s early votes will be revealed. If an early voter’s first choice ends up nonviable after realignment, their vote will be redistributed to the highest-ranking choice who is viable.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work — a complex process like this provides many opportunities for messy human error, as we’ve seen in Iowa.
How the Nevada caucuses work
Let’s walk through how the caucus process will unfold in a little more detail.
It begins when, at each precinct, attendees will divide into groups based on which candidate they support. Then, the first-choice early votes for each candidate will be revealed. After that, the precinct’s Round 1 vote tally is locked in. We’ll track how that goes here:
Next, supporters (either in-person or early voters) for any candidate at 15 percent of the vote in each precinct will be locked in — those candidates are officially viable.
But anyone who initially backed a candidate with less than 15 percent of the vote now gets the chance to realign. They can back a viable candidate, combine forces to get a nonviable candidate over the 15 percent threshold, or back no one at all.
Once the in-person realignment concludes, there’s the early vote redistribution. That is: Each early voter whose first-choice candidate ended up nonviable will have their vote moved over to their highest-ranked candidate who is viable.
So, for instance, if an early voter ranked Joe Biden first, Amy Klobuchar second, Tom Steyer third, Pete Buttigieg fourth, and Elizabeth Warren fifth — but only Warren and Bernie Sanders ended up viable in their precinct — this vote would be distributed to Warren.
After this, the final vote total will be tallied in each precinct (combining the realigned in-person vote and the redistributed early vote). We’ll display those numbers here as they come in.
After that is when delegates come in.
Each of the nearly 2,000 precincts in Nevada has been assigned a specific number of county convention delegates, based on how many registered Democratic voters are in the precinct. Some precincts have just one delegate, some have dozens — you can review the whole list here.
So in each precinct, the delegates will be split up among viable candidates proportionally according to the final vote total. Rounding comes into play here, because delegates are people and don’t get split up fractionally. (If there’s a tie, there’s a distinctly Nevadan solution: Cards will be drawn, with the high card determining the winner). Regional discrepancies in support can also come into play, as they did in Iowa (where Sanders led the statewide final vote, but Buttigieg currently has a narrow lead in the delegate metric).
Don’t forget national delegates, either
The county convention delegates are traditionally used to determine the “winner” in Nevada. But that’s not the end of things either — the delegates to the Democratic National Convention have to get allotted, too. (It is these national delegates, after all, that will determine the Democratic nominee in the end.)
Some of these national delegates will be allotted proportionally based on the statewide results — but, to prevent things from being too simple, some will depend on the proportional results in each of Nevada’s four congressional districts matter as well.
Nevada will send 36 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention. And of these:
- 13 will be allotted based on statewide results
- 5 will be allotted based on results in the 1st congressional district
- 6 will be allotted based on the results of the 2nd district
- 6 will be allotted in the 3rd district
- 6 will be allotted in the 4th district
If a candidate doesn’t clear 15 percent in a district, they’ll get none of that district’s delegates. So here as well, it’s possible for geographic differences in support to affect the outcome.
It’s a complicated process. But Nevadans are betting that they can pull it off better than Iowa did — and that, if this gamble pays off, they could make a case to be the first state to vote rather than the third next time around.