Posted by Adam Ginsburg on February 21, 2020 at 10:59 PM
More than 70,000 Nevada Caucus Votes Cast with Ranked Choice Voting Ballots
For Immediate Release: February 21
Nevada voters just made history as the nation’s first presidential caucus to allow early voting, made possible by the use of ranked choice voting (RCV). RCV ballots (see sample ballot at end of release) simulate the caucus experience, enabling more than 70,000 early votes. On Saturday, the in-person votes will be combined with these early votes to result in the final delegate tallies from the state. In 2016, total Democratic caucus participation was 84,000, and 118,000 participated in 2008.
The Nevada Democratic Party adopted this proven electoral method of RCV ballots in order to make the caucus more accessible, equalize voting power and ensure that early voters had the same ability as caucus-goers to “realign” to a backup choice if their top pick fell short of the 15% viability threshold to collect delegates.
Not all early votes will count. Nevada Democrats are contacting voters whose ballots were invalidated to let them know they will need to attend a caucus to have a vote count. Out of the first 36,000 ballots counted, for example, only 75 (0.2%) were invalidated due to the party’s unique rule of requiring voters to use more than one ranking. Far more votes, however - between 3% and 4% of all ballots - were invalidated because voters did not sign their ballot.
“Early voting in Nevada wasn’t flawless, but it has expanded participation. Because of the ease and power of ranked choice voting, tens of thousands of Nevadans could vote without attending a Saturday caucus,” said Rob Richie, the president and CEO of FairVote. “We know that RCV is as easy as 1-2-3. These numbers prove it - and they’re just the latest sign that voters want the powerful voice that RCV provides.”
There were challenges associated with early voting. The need to depend on volunteers and party policies for checking in voters meant lines were often long, and voters who neglected to sign their ballot (a request unique to a caucus) did not have their votes count. FairVote and leading voting rights and electoral reform groups had concerns about the state party’s requirement to rank at least three candidates. The Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, League of Women Voters and More Equitable Democracy were among organizations that signed a joint statement with FairVote urging the party to count all votes with a valid first expression as a better practice.
The low error rate is a good sign for the Nevada Democratic Party. Volunteers checked ballots for ballot errors as votes were being cast, ensuring that as many voters as possible had an opportunity to correct or cast a new ballot. The party still faces challenges, including integration of ranked choice voting ballots into the in-person caucuses - not something that is part of typical ranked choice voting elections.
“Despite the long lines, Nevadans were excited to take advantage of early voting,” said Pedro Hernandez, FairVote Senior Policy Coordinator. Hernandez observed and spoke to voters at five early voting sites in Washoe County. “Once voters had their ballots, many found it easy to rank their choices.”
Nevada’s history-making turn will be followed by RCV’s usage in four other states this spring that will avoid the challenge of also doing in-person caucusing: Kansas, Wyoming, Alaska and Hawaii. In these party-run primaries, all Democratic voters in those states will receive ranked choice voting ballots by mail, with some voters likely still choosing to drop their votes off in person.
“RCV helped Nevada Democrats solve a problem of basic fairness. We look forward to seeing the final results, which will fully capture voter sentiment for the first time,” Richie said. “RCV rewards candidates who have both deep support and the power to build a broad coalition. Now it’s time for both parties and all 50 states to offer this ballot to all voters and adopt this proven reform that gives voters more choice and more voice.”