Politics

Meet The Workers Who Are Shut Out Of Nevada’s Caucuses

CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

Fernanda Lima became a U.S. citizen last year, but cannot participate in Saturday's caucus because she works two jobs.

LAS VEGAS, NV — As she poured frothy cappuccinos and cleared dirty dishes at the Sambalatte coffee shop on the Las Vegas Strip, Emily Rodriguez lamented that her 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift will prevent her participating in Saturday’s Democratic Caucus, which is held at noon.

“I haven’t even had time to learn about the candidates,” the Las Vegas native said. “Even if I could go, it would be like, eenie meenie miney moe.”

Rodriguez, who works weekends as a barista and weekdays at the front desk of an gynecologist’s office, and is working on a business degree at the College of Southern Nevada, told ThinkProgress she wishes she could participate in the caucuses, because she cares about many issues.

“The cost of school keeps going up, and I can’t get financial aid because my parents make too much money, even though they haven’t supported me since I was 16,” she said. “Because of my job I also think a lot about the high price of health care. Our pregnant patients are stressed out enough, but then they get charged a $40 co-pay for coming in and asking the doctor just one question. And their deductibles are so high that they’re paying totally out-of-pocket. They have to pay like $5,000 before they get anything covered. I want a president who will fix that.”

Unlike a presidential primary, where residents have all day to make to the polls and cast a ballot, caucuses require voters to show up in person at a single, specific time — and wrangling enough votes for a single candidate could take hours. The vast majority of people are not allowed to vote absentee, even if they have an illness or disability.

The Nevada Democratic Party added six at-large caucus sites right on the Vegas Strip itself, in order to help ensure that the tens of thousands who clean rooms, deal cards, and pour drinks can participate, no matter where their home precinct is. The Culinary Workers Union, which represents most of these workers, has bargained for their right to take a few hours off mid-day to caucus.

But as in Iowa, which held the first-in-the-nation caucus on February 1, some workers remain excluded from the process.

“I didn’t even know there were caucuses here on the Strip,” Rodriguez said. “But even so, many people are not done with their shifts by then.”

Many workers ThinkProgress spoke to in Las Vegas work multiple jobs to make ends meet. From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., wearing elbow-length red gloves, a feather headdress, and a faux-jewel-encrusted bikini, Brazil native Fernanda Lima stands in front of the Bellagio Hotel posing for photos with tourists. Following a quick costume change, she deals cards at the Treasure Island casino from noon to 8 p.m. This schedule prevents her from participating in either party’s caucus.

“I just became a citizen last year, and I want to be a part of it,” she said. “I follow Hillary on Facebook and I wish I could vote for her. I like that she’s a woman, and I know she has a lot of experience.”

While workers like Rodriguez and Lima can’t vote at all, party officials are raising concerns that some Nevadans may try to vote twice — caucusing in both Saturday’s Democratic caucus and Tuesday’s Republican one. A loophole in the state’s laws allows voters to pre-register as a Republican, show up at the Democratic caucus and take advantage of same-day registration. Some college Republican groups in the state have urged their members to do this, telling them, “nobody will get arrested.”

Longtime Nevada journalist Jon Ralston mused this week, “The obvious mischief would be a bunch of Republicans doing this to try to skew the caucus toward Bernie Sanders.”

Yet the Democratic Party send a statement to ThinkProgress saying that such double voting with the intent to skew the race is a felony, and promised to “work with law enforcement to prosecute anyone who falsely registers as a Democrat to caucus tomorrow and subsequently participates in the Republican caucuses on Tuesday.” The Secretary of State has also promised to monitor any changes in registration and report any matches to both parties, saying that voters who double dip “may be subject to challenge and disqualification from further participation in the nominating process.”

Nevada senior Sen. Harry Reid also condemned the rumored efforts to caucus twice, saying, “Plans to interfere with the integrity of Nevada’s Democratic caucuses are shameful and immoral. “Rather than letting voters decide and allowing our democratic system to work, Republicans are resorting to trickery and gimmicks in an attempt to subvert the will of the people. The Republican Party has long decried voter fraud, but with this latest scheme they are now encouraging it.”