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Sunday September 15th, 2019 6:01AM

Nevada Democrats propose early voting for 2020 caucuses

By The Associated Press
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada Democrats are proposing changes to their presidential caucus that could dramatically alter the way candidates compete in the state, opening the process to an early-vote and virtual participation.

The proposal would expand a single day of caucuses around the state to add four days of early caucuses and two days of early virtual caucusing.

The plan, which still needs approval from the Democratic National Committee, would allow more people to participate while likely driving candidates to appear earlier and more often leading up to the main event on Feb. 22, 2020. It would also likely force candidates to invest more resources to more deeply organize and target voters.

Alana Mounce, the executive director of the Nevada State Democratic Party, said the changes will broaden the options for caucus goers and give Nevada voters a process akin to the early voting many take advantage of in general elections.

"I think it makes the process more open, makes it more transparent and it's more accessible because you're able to go vote after work, you're able to go in the morning before work," Mounce said. "You're able to still live your life instead of having to organize your life around one day and one event."

The changes would particularly help those who are homebound or cannot spend hours at a Saturday caucus event, including many of the politically active casino workers in Las Vegas, Reno and elsewhere who might not work traditional Monday to Friday weeks.

The Nevada Democratic Party plans to release more details about its proposal in the coming weeks. The party will take public feedback on the plan before submitting it to the DNC for approval in May. The changes are part of a required move by the DNC to make caucuses in states like Iowa and Nevada more accessible.

"We are pleased Nevada Democrats not only share this goal, but are taking steps to make their process more open and inclusive for Nevada voters," Brandon Gassaway, national press secretary for the DNC, said in a statement.

Iowa, which hosts the first-in the-nation contest, has announced it is proposing a virtual caucus where people could participate with phones or other devices.

Nevada Democrats don't have specifics yet on what the virtual participation will look like and how it will compare to Iowa's plans.

The party also does not have final details on the early, in-person caucus but it will differ from the main Saturday caucuses where voters show up at neighborhood sites and break into groups based on their preferred candidate.

Generally at the early caucuses, Democrats would be able to stop by caucus sites and fill out forms listing their preferred candidate and at least one alternate choice.

If an early voter's first choice does not gain enough support in an initial round of voting at Saturday's in-person caucuses, the early voter's second choice would be counted and added to those attending in-person.

Early votes will be worth the same as those cast on the main day, and any vote totals from the early caucusing would be kept secret until final results are released at the end of the main caucuses. Results collected through the end of that day will lock in how 36 Nevada delegates will be awarded to the candidates.

Jorge Neri, a political strategist who served in 2016 as Hillary Clinton's state director in Nevada and organizing director during the caucuses, said it's a change for the better to allow more people to participate, but candidates will have to have very organized teams to mobilize supporters.

"You would have to really build up your field team and spend more time working to educate people on this process," Neri said.

With more days and ways to vote, the presidential campaigns would likely want to identify and target voters based on how they most likely will participate.

Candidates who appeal to younger voters may emphasize virtual voting while targeting on early caucusing days those they know might not be able to attend a Saturday caucus.

Mounce said the early voting will also give candidates away to bank support before the main caucus, more quickly converting enthusiastic attendees at rallies or other appearances into a vote.

"They're going to be able to say, 'You can go vote for me now,'" she said.

The party has not settled yet on when the earliest voting might start and whether the days will one consecutive window of early voting.

Mounce said the first day could be scheduled for any time in the 10 days after the New Hampshire primary's second-in the-nation contest.

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