Does Nevada deserve its early spot for voting?

The 'three states' of Nevada politics
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Story highlights

  • Democratic Party holds its Nevada presidential candidate caucus on Saturday
  • Paul Davis: Turnout for both parties was low in 2008 and 2012 campaigns

Paul Davis is professor in the Graduate Executive Master of Science in Crisis and Emergency Management Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a professor in political science with the Emergency Management and Homeland Security program at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)This Saturday's Democratic caucuses look poised to produce an extremely tight race, at least according to the latest opinion poll, which shows the candidates in a virtual dead heat. But as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders battle it out for the state's 43 delegates, it is worth asking this question: Is the race really deserving of all the attention being heaped on it?

The short answer is no. For all the interest in the big storyline of whether Clinton can bounce back after being soundly beaten by Sanders in New Hampshire earlier this month, and whether Sanders can appeal to a more racially diverse group of voters, the truth is that Nevada is completely the wrong place to be trying to answer that question.
Paul Davis
Why?
    For a start, the turnout for the Nevada caucuses is typically extremely low -- the state is known as having one of the lowest voter participation rates in the nation. In fact, it's an absolute disgrace. Take the first presidential caucus in the state for the Republicans back in 2008, when the registered voter turnout (only Republicans could participate) was a lowly 12%. The participation rate for the Democrats was little better.
    And things got even worse in 2012. Despite being considered close to home turf, as The New York Times put it, for Mitt Romney due to its high Mormon population among GOP caucus goers, he wracked up just 16,486 votes. Overall turnout, meanwhile, didn't even crack double digits, at 8%. Democratic turnout, admittedly in a year with a sitting president running, was even lower.
    Such dismal engagement -- although by no means confined to this one state -- should be enough on its own to disqualify Nevada from such an early and influential role in the presidential primary season. But there is another troubling aspect to the state's system: The number of delegates doesn't even fairly reflect the will of those who end up voting. Indeed, the winner of the caucuses doesn't necessarily even end up winning the most delegates.
    In 2008, for example, Clinton secured just over 50% of the Democratic votes, compared with the 45% of votes secured by Barack Obama. This was a clear victory for Clinton, yet Obama still ended up winning the most national delegates from Nevada.
    And on the Republican side, in 2012, Romney won an overwhelming precinct caucus victory, securing 50% of the vote. He rightly won the lion's share of the state's delegates. But something interesting happened with the second and third place finishers. Newt Gingrich secured 21.1% of the votes, while Ron Paul got 18.8%. You would think that this would mean a roughly even split at the Republican Party convention, yet Gingrich didn't receive a single national delegate from Nevada, with eight going to Paul.
    Where is the outrage over this? Students are taught to believe that voting results should reflect the outcomes of elections. This is at heart of the democratic process, and yet it doesn't seem to apply in Nevada. If this were Iran or Russia, we would rightly be skeptical of such results. So why not when they happen here at home?
    Woeful turnout and results that don't even reflect the votes cast -- clearly it is time for the Democratic and Republican parties to rethink the Silver State's lofty position in the nation's presidential primary season.
    The truth is that the low voter participation rate in the 2008 and 2012 caucuses should have meant the state was immediately disqualified from having such an outsized impact on the narrative of the presidential campaigns. And the fact that its allocation of delegates does not properly reflect the votes of those that do turn up should have sealed the deal.
    Unless there is a remarkable turnaround in this year's process, then Nevada is likely to embarrass itself again. Not only that, but the skewing of the democratic process risks undermining the faith of our citizens.
    Enough is enough -- it is time for Nevada to step aside.