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January 19, 2019

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Smooth sailing or political malfunction? Will Clark County Democratic Convention be repeat of 2008?

Democratic Caucus at Caesars Palace

Steve Marcus

Supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders hold up signs outside the caucus site Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, at Caesars Palace.

The Clark County Democratic Party hopes 2016 isn’t a repeat of 2008 come Saturday, when local Democrats will host the next step in the presidential nominating process: the county convention.

Thousands of delegates are expected at Cashman Center to elect delegates to the state Democratic convention, which in turn will send delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer in Philadelphia. Other Nevada counties will do the same, selecting their delegates to send to the state convention in May.

The 2008 county convention, the last contested convention for Clark County Democrats, was widely considered a fiasco. When more people showed up than the convention hall at Bally’s could hold, party leaders suspended voting and reconvened the convention in a larger venue, the Thomas & Mack Center, more than a month later.

Saturday’s convention will be at Cashman Center precisely to avoid that problem, Clark County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Miller said.

Party officials worked “to make sure we had a much larger space than we did in 2008,” Miller said.

But no one knows exactly how many people will show up — not even Miller.

On caucus day, almost 9,000 delegates were elected to attend the county convention: 4,889 for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and 4,026 for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, plus three uncommitted delegates. Alternates also were elected to sub for no-show delegates. In addition, unelected alternates can register for the county convention to fill in if the elected alternates fail to arrive.

That means more than 10,000 people could attend Saturday, just as in 2008.

Some nervousness among delegates remains. On Wednesday and Thursday, people who identified themselves as delegates took to social media to express their frustrations and concerns.

On the Facebook event page for the convention, a number of people raised concerns about an email they received from the county party, which told delegates that if they check-in and register Friday night at the SEIU Union hall, they do not need to attend the convention Saturday.

“If you check-in or register as a delegate on Friday April 1st it is not required for you to be present at the convention on Saturday April 2nd,” the email said. “If you check-in or register as an alternate on Friday, April 1st it is required for you to be at the convention on Saturday April 2nd no later than 12:00 Noon.”

The Facebook commenters said they had received conflicting information. They previously were told they would need to attend the convention all day. They encouraged fellow delegates to attend Saturday and stay for the entire event to be sure their votes count.

Miller did not respond to requests for comment about the email.

Others raised concerns about the cost of the attending the convention — $26.62 through Eventbrite online — saying it is prohibitive for attendees. Officials say the amount is a voluntary contribution as convention costs are paid for by the county party. However, the party has said it will ask the campaigns for help covering the costs for supporters who attended but were unable to pay.

On Facebook and Reddit, people also encouraged elected and unelected alternates to attend the convention Friday to fill in delegate vacancies, as they worried some of the delegate information from the caucuses may have been lost.

Party officials confirmed that there are delegate vacancies but said they are a result of precincts failing to elect the full number of delegates they were allowed and delegates failing to return their delegate forms. The alternate process ensures that supporters from both campaigns can show up as alternates to fill allotted delegate vacancies, they said.

Despite the concerns, the campaigns are optimistic about the convention and remain hopeful that at least some of the delegates, who aren’t bound to vote for the candidate they caucused for in February, could switch sides.

“We had a meeting last night with a lot of our supporters, and I pretty much went through the basics of what to expect at the convention. And one of the things I mentioned was, ‘Hey, look, if a Clinton supporter wants to come over here and change their presidential preference for Bernie, we’re all for it. We should welcome them with open arms,’” Sanders’ State Director Joan Kato said.

“We’ve made thousands of calls and reached out to thousands of delegates and alternates, and we’ve not had a single person who has said that they have switched sides,” Clinton’s political director Michelle White said. “But at the end of the day, we welcome any Bernie supporters who want to join Team Hillary. We welcome them with open arms.”

If all goes according to plan, the convention will be called to order at 10 a.m.; registration and check-in will continue until noon. During that time, Sen. Harry Reid and other elected officials are expected to give brief speeches.

Once everyone is checked in, the delegates will be seated, and any open seats will be filled by alternates or unelected alternates. Representatives of each candidate will give brief speeches, then delegates to the state convention will be elected and delegates will approve the party’s platform.

Delegates elected Saturday will attend the state Democratic convention May 14. The Democratic National Convention will be July 25-28.

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