ELKO — The hallways of Elko High School are normally quiet on Saturdays but the school was filled with caucus-goers this Saturday, the majority of whom eventually selected Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The latest available results showed Sanders with 56 percent and Hillary Clinton with 44 percent in Elko County, although Clinton won statewide.
The 2016 Nevada Democratic caucus kicked off at 11 a.m., with several caucusing locations in Elko County. Even though most people showed up to caucus with their candidate in mind, out-of-state volunteers were still there to represent their favorite candidates.
“I’m a Hillary supporter and I heard it might be close so I figured all the help I could give her would be appreciated,” said Carolyn Mixon, who carpooled into Elko with other Hillary Clinton supporters from Oakland, California. “She has worked for women and minorities her entire career and I really believe she can do a good job as president.”
There was also no shortage of Sanders supporters as both candidates were well represented. Justin Nelson, who traveled from Utah to help guide caucus-goers to the appropriate caucusing areas around the school, said he wanted to show support of Sanders while being part of the election process in a swing state.
“We helped canvass door to door yesterday and we organized the Sanders rally at the school gym as well,” he said. “We’re here today to be observers and help people get registered and take part in the democratic process.”
The democratic process was not always a smooth one, however. Several Spring Creek residents showed up to Elko High School by mistake and had to be redirected to their local caucusing place. Nelson said that explaining the procedures of caucusing was a challenge that day.
“The dissemination of knowledge has been a little bit problematic,” he said. “So we’re just here to help correct that and make sure people understand how caucuses work and what the rules are.”
Once they were able to find the right classroom to caucus in and they were, once again, reminded of the caucusing procedures it was time for each precinct to make a decision. Unlike the voting that will take place on election night, the ballots that were cast Saturday were not a secret to the others in the room.
Caucuser John Patrick Rice said that this part of the election process is a simplified version of the democratic process, with everyone publicly declaring which candidate they would prefer.
“Essentially everybody kind of divides up like they’re picking sides for dodge ball,” he said. “Hillary supporters will go to one side of the room, Bernie supporters will go to the other side of the room and undecideds will go to a third part of the room. ... In my opinion it’s raw democracy. It’s not secret. It’s very public.”
Before the delegates can be awarded to a candidate the undecided voters have to pick a side. If there are multiple undecided voters then each side will look to change the minds of at least a few caucusers. However, one precinct had only one undecided person for both sides to lobby for.
Peter Rissone was initially a Clinton supporter who began to question his choice after seeing the support that Sanders was receiving. Rissone, who said he was shocked that he was the only undecided voter in the classroom and felt somewhat awkward having both candidates pitched to him by others in the room, said both candidates were similar in their positions on the issues he thought were most important.
“Sanders caught a tail wind and I was like, ‘what am I missing here,’” he said. “I understood the candidates to be very similar on a majority of the issues and the fact that Hillary was at all threatened started playing in the back of my mind.”
Rissone also said that he both liked and had issues with part of Clinton’s and Sanders’ platforms and that made it much more difficult for him to chose
Before making his decision, Rissone stood in the middle of the room for close to 10 minutes as supporters of Sanders and Clinton tried to sell him on the leadership of both candidates. He didn’t particularly care for the spotlight but said there is no shame in not having your mind made up by the time the caucus begins.
“I think people maybe don’t understand that you can come to a caucus and be a noncommittal sort,” he said. “You don’t have to show up decided. That’s kind of the point of the caucus, it’s part of the process.”
With most of the other caucus rooms in the school emptied out and most precincts decided, Rissone eventually went back to his originally choice of candidate and walked over to the Clinton side of the room before the final votes were tallied. The precinct was awarded to Sanders as he received two delegates while Clinton received one.
Rissone may not have been a big fan of the attention he was receiving in the room but he hopes that the discussion his dissension created helped people understand the issues better.
“The discussion is important. At least we talked a little bit and I thought that was healthy. It probably makes us leave the room more united,” he said. “I didn’t get stuff thrown at me when I made my decision and we agreed that we’re going to back the winner of what will probably be a prolonged campaign.”