In Nevada, Trump is all but guaranteed a win

When Nevadans head to the polls next week, Republicans in the state must choose not only between candidates but also between elections. It will be the first year since 1980 that the state will hold primaries after moving to end its traditional caucuses three years ago. But the GOP is holding onto both systems, setting the stage for voter confusion amid an all-but-guaranteed victory for former President Donald Trump.

When are the elections? Republicans and Democrats will hold their respective primaries on Tuesday. But then Republicans will return for party caucuses on Thursday from 5 to 7:30 p.m.. It is the first year the state is using the primary system, but dissenting Republicans insist they will stick to the caucuses to determine their candidate. While former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley opted to participate in the primary, Trump and Texas CEO and pastor Ryan Binkley will be on the caucus ballot. Trump has support from about 73 percent of Republican voters in the state, according to last month’s Emerson College poll. Binkley does not register on any polls.

Why are there two elections? The 2020 Democratic caucuses results were delayed for several days, drawing national attention and creating statewide frustration. The following year, then–Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, signed a package of new election laws that allowed all-mail elections, expanded automatic voter registration, and required a state-run primary system. But the Nevada GOP was not on board.

The state Republican Party sued Nevada, arguing that the laws violated the party’s right to choose its presidential nominee. A court ruled that the state GOP could not stop the switch to the primary system but still had autonomy over how to assign delegates to the national convention where it selects a presidential candidate. The party opted to hold its own caucuses and shun the state-mandated primary. It also decreed that any presidential hopeful running in the primary would be ineligible for the caucuses and therefore, the delegates.

The Nevada Republican Party said in a statement it was affirming “its commitment to transparent elections with common-sense safeguards such as voter ID, paper ballots, and precinct-based balloting” in its caucuses.

Current Gov. Joe Lombardo, a Republican, said he has concerns about holding a primary and a caucus but cannot change the party’s decision. He has publicly endorsed Trump. In an interview last year, he worried that holding two elections would confuse and “disenfranchise” voters, and he called the system “unacceptable.” Lombardo told The Nevada Independent that he would caucus for Trump and vote “none of the above” in the primary.

“There’s a lot of registered independents in the state of Nevada now, and they are eclipsing the numbers on the Democratic side and the Republican side,” he said. “We want their voice heard in the primary.”

Is Nevada important? The Silver State is known as a purple outpost in the West. Although Democratic candidates have won the presidential elections there every year since 2008, Republicans perform at close margins. President Joe Biden defeated Trump by less than 3 percent in 2020, roughly the same margin by which Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016. It has six Electoral College votes. As of Jan. 1, independents accounted for the largest share of voters at 34 percent. Roughly 31 percent identify as Democrats and 28 percent as Republicans, according to the Nevada secretary of state.

There are 26 Republican delegates up for grabs, which will be allocated proportionally to any candidate who receives more than 3.9 percent of the vote in the caucuses.

What does this mean for the candidates? In an official party document, the Nevada GOP wrote the primary victor would win “nothing but brief, meaningless bragging rights.” Trump has told voters to “ignore the primary” and just come out to caucus for him.

“Your primary vote doesn’t mean anything,” Trump said at a Las Vegas rally on Jan. 27. “Don’t worry about the primary, just do the caucus thing.”

U.S. Sen Tim Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence are also technically on the primary ballot but votes cast for them will not count since they already dropped out of the presidential race. In New Hampshire, Haley told reporters that she opted for the primary because it would be more fair. Trump’s campaign team lobbied heavily for the updated caucus rules, which included a $55,000 entry fee and a ban on funding from super political action committees.

“Talk to the people in Nevada,” Haley said. “They will tell you the caucuses have been sealed up, bought, and paid for a long time. So, that’s why we got into the primary.”

But she might not win the primary. Haley has not campaigned much in Nevada, and the primary ballot provides a “none of the above” option that Trump supporters, like Lombardo, may use. Write-ins are not allowed.

How does it work? Nevada allows early voting, which ended on Feb. 2. Active military service members and voters who require disability accommodations may also vote absentee. The dual elections have many voters confused. Local election officials clarified that registered Republicans may vote in both the primary and the caucus.

The primaries and the caucuses are closed elections, meaning independents may not participate. However, the state does allow same-day voter registration and party changes at the polls for the primaries. In the caucuses, the state party limits participation to registered Republicans who present a valid ID.

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