Thursday, March 21, 2019

Nevada Democrats Release Draft Delegate Selection Plan

Although some of the details came to light a couple of weeks ago, Nevada Democrats on Wednesday, March 20 released their draft delegate selection plan for the 2020 cycle, providing a fuller accounting of how the party will select and allocate delegates. The devil is always in the details:

The process
Before digging in, let's go over some basics. First of all, the is a draft. All Democratic state parties are tasked with devising a draft delegate selection plan that it then releases publicly and opens to public comment for at least 30 days. On or before May 3, those state parties then submit both the draft plans and any comments collected from the public to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) for review. The RBC then approves the plan or more often requests some changes that state parties typically work on over the summer.

What Nevada Democrats released today, then, is not a finished product. It may or may not -- in whole or in part -- pass muster with the RBC.

The delegate toplines
The draft plan confirms that Nevada Democrats will have a total of 48 delegates apportioned to the state for 2020. That is five delegates more than the 43 total delegates the party had in 2016. As in 2016, there will be 36 pledged delegates in 2020 in the Nevada delegation. That includes eight at-large delegates, 23 congressional district delegates and five party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates. Most of that is just the same as it was for 2016. The only difference comes from the addition of one at-large delegate. That means that the remaining gain in total delegates cycle over cycle came entirely from the superdelegates (one governor, one senator and two additional Democratic members of the US House).

Just as in 2016, there is only one congressional district in Nevada with an odd number of delegates for 2020. This is a marginal consideration, especially in a winnowing contest (as opposed to those later contests where the game changes to counting delegates), but it can present an opportunity to the district winners in the rounding to determine the allocation of whole, rather than fractional, delegates. [There is some additional insight on this here in the table footnotes.]

The changes that will grab attention

...and affect strategy
The easiest thing to do here is to use previously released draft delegate selection plans from other caucus states as touch points. As FHQ mentioned recently in discussing the North Dakota draft plan, there is a range of responses to the new DNC rules regarding expectations for caucus states with respect to increasing participation. This scale runs from basically a party-run primary (North Dakota) to more traditional caucuses with alternate means of participating (Iowa). As was hypothesized then, the earlier carve-out state caucuses are in a position of having to dance around state law in New Hampshire because both Iowa and Nevada bookend the primary in the Granite state and have some interest in maintaining the delicate balance with regard to calendar scheduling. Later caucus state, then, may feel more empowered -- if they have the resources -- to move in the direction of so-called "firehouse caucuses" than the two earlier caucus states that must in some way tiptoe around the "similar contest"distinction that the New Hampshire secretary of state is charged with assessing.

Nevada, we would then expect, is closer to Iowa than North Dakota. And it is.

Like Iowa, Nevada will add virtual caucuses in its attempt at expanding participation in the overarching caucus process. In the draft plan, Nevada Democrats will add a couple of no excuse online fora for Democrats to vote on either Sunday, February 16 or Monday, February 17.

Unlike Iowa, Nevada Democrats plan on allowing a window for early voting at locations yet to be determined as well. The four day early voting window stretches from Saturday, February 15 through Tuesday, February 18 and will provide an additional outlet for participation.

Another important difference between the Iowa and Nevada draft plans is that Nevada Democrats are not capping the input that the virtual caucuses or early voting will have on the process. Recall that draft plan in Iowa limits the impact of the virtual caucuses in the Hawkeye state by capping the number of delegates moving on to the next step in the Iowa process to just 10 percent. That may or may not hold up to RBC scrutiny and remains something of an unknown moving forward. But comparatively, whereas the Iowa draft plan makes some attempt at preserving the traditional caucuses (through the virtual caucuses cap), the Nevada Democratic Party does not.

Nevada Democrats, then, are theoretically opening up the floodgates on participation. This has implications for how candidates and their campaigns will approach both states. In Iowa, the onus is on the campaigns to identify those caucusgoers who would be best suited for that format. Attempting to run up the score in the virtual caucuses will not yield a good return on investment because of that cap. Candidates, then, still have incentives to play the traditional caucus game in Iowa. The system is engineered toward that end.

But the incentives are different in Nevada (or will be if this plan or some variation of it is accepted by the RBC). With no cap, campaigns have every reason, if they have the resources to do so, to push as many of their supporters to participate in the virtual caucuses and early vote. On caucus day in Nevada, campaigns real motivation is to insure that grassroots activists and other diehard supporters who want to be delegates make it to the precinct to participate and move on in the selection process. Of course, campaigns can also try to squeeze out any additional leftover casual support on caucus day to the traditional caucuses. But the intent here is clear: those campaigns with the means and wherewithal will make every attempt to run up the score as much as possible through the new early outlets with the allocation process (how many delegates a candidate wins) in mind and focus more on the selection process (who fills a candidate's the allocated slots) on caucus day.

This is an important difference across the two states. But it also raises an important question.

More strategy 
No, none of the results to the virtual caucuses or early voting will be released until caucus day, but what does Bill Gardner think?

The New Hampshire law empowers the secretary of state to move the Granite state primary to a position that is seven days before any other similar contest. While Nevada will caucus on Saturday, February 22 -- 11 days after New Hampshire primary voters go to the polls -- both the new virtual caucuses and early voting window in Nevada stretch into the seven day window after the New Hampshire primary. If Iowa's virtual caucuses avoid the "similar contest" designation from Gardner, then they likely will in Nevada as well. However, Nevada also has that proposed early voting window. Gardner will likely wait until the fall to set a date, but this all -- whether in Iowa or Nevada, much less early voting in other states -- will give the New Hampshire secretary of state some factors to think about before he sets the date of the primary.

Other considerations
Although it is less clear in the Nevada draft plan (than in the its Iowa counterpart), there is seemingly ranked choice voting involved in both the virtual caucuses and early voting. Caucusgoers will not only provide their top preference, but additional preferences as well. The system is described in less detail in Nevada than in Iowa. The bottom line difference between the two, however, remains the fact that if one assumes more participation in early and virtual caucuses, then viability at the caucuses on actual caucus day are likely to be determined in the earlier voting outlets. But that assumes that there is not only greater participation in those earlier fora, but much greater participation. But if that comes to pass, the earlier results may have a significant effect on the decision-making of those attending the traditional caucuses on February 22 when all the votes are rolled into one pot from precinct to precinct.

There is still a balance there. Well-resourced campaigns may have incentive to run up the score in the earlier contests, but they still have some motivation to play the game in the traditional caucuses with respect to the selection process.

The comparison between Iowa and Nevada is an interesting one, but one explained by their positions on the calendar (pending draft plans from the remaining caucus states).

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