GOP still counting Nevada caucus results

By Cristina Silva

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 5 2012 2:05 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters at his Nevada caucus night victory celebration in Las Vegas, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012.

Associated Press

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LAS VEGAS — More than 24 hours after Nevada Republicans began gathering at schools and community centers across the state to choose their presidential nominee, the election results remain uncertain.

While most of the results were released hours after the Saturday morning contest, the results from the state's most populous county are still being tallied.

Clark County officials say they stayed up until the wee hours of Sunday morning counting ballots, but couldn't finish the task. Only 70 percent of all the votes had been counted, and an official turnout for Clark County had yet to be made public.

"It is just layer upon layer of issues that we are trying to work through," said acting GOP chairman James Smack. "We are not dragging our feet on it. We just want to make sure we get it right."

At question is whether party officials were able to beat their previous statewide turnout of 44,000 in 2008, which was largely considered a failure. Early turnout numbers suggest fewer people may have voted in Saturday's caucuses.

In Washoe County, party officials said turnout in Reno appeared much lower than it was statewide four years ago. In rural Churchill County, turnout seemed on par with 2008.

In comparison, turnout was up slightly in the first three states to vote, New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina. Nevada was fifth, after Florida.

Northern Nevada GOP leaders blamed the dismal showing on early morning cold weather, the lure of good skiing and front-runner Mitt Romney's projected dominance in the state.

"A lot of people felt the state was in the bag for Mitt Romney," Smack said. "If the other candidates had more time here, it would have made a difference."

The tedious hand-counting process had volunteers staying up until 4 a.m. and missing Sunday church services to tally ballots. Unlike most elections, the caucuses were not overseen by professional voting officials or the government, but rather the state and county GOP parties. Statewide there were 1,835 precincts and 125 caucus sites.

"Our goal is to finish verification," said Clark County GOP spokeswoman Bobbie Haseley. "There is no modern technology when it comes to how the voting took place and the counting."

The process, run mainly by volunteers, led to some voter complaints of disorganization and confusion. Each county had its own caucus rules and some voters were unaware that they could not walk in and out and vote, as in a primary, but had to arrive on time and sit through some debates on behalf of the candidates.

In the months and weeks leading up the caucuses, party officials frequently readjusted expectations, initially projecting 100,000 voters would show up, then 70,000, then 60,000, then 55,000 before some predicted late Friday that turnout would not exceed the 2008 results.

That year, Nevada Democrats and Republicans held caucuses ahead of most states for the first time ever. Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, drew 110,000 voters in a competitive contest that saw Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Nevada campaigning earnestly across Nevada.

In contrast, Republicans drew only 44,000 voters to their non-binding contest that most candidates skipped.

To give the contest more clout this time, party leaders made the caucuses binding and promised to proportionally hand out delegates according to the election results in a bid to entice candidates to campaign here and give voters more incentive to show up.

But only Romney and Texas U.S. Rep Ron Paul, who place first and second in the 2008 caucuses, bothered to set up campaign operations in Nevada. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich largely ignored the state until the final week of the contest, when they showed up and held a few public events.

Adding to the uncertainty was a last-minute decision from party officials to release the election results not as they came in, but instead all at once late Saturday except for the Clark County tallies, which were held to accommodate a special late-night caucus, the only one in the state.

The result was that long after most media organizations called the race for Romney, no one was quite sure how many votes he or any of the other candidates had won.

"They had the mistakes of 2008 to learn from," said Chuck Muth, a tea party organizer in Las Vegas who supported Gingrich. "They apparently didn't learn from those mistakes and they created new ones."

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