Caucuses are officially no more in Nebraska after the state Democratic Party voted to go back to the primary system.
The state’s Democrats had been choosing their presidential nominee by caucus since 2008 in a system similar to Iowa’s. With caucuses, voters gather in place and discuss the candidates, as opposed to a primary, in which voting is done privately like any other election.
But Nebraska Democratic Party’s State Central Committee voted at its meeting in Ord on Saturday to discontinue the system and go back to regular primary voting. The change was overwhelmingly approved on a voice vote following about 90 minutes of debate.
“The Nebraska Democratic Party continues to reform and build across our state,” Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb said in a press release. “Our goal is to ensure all Democrats and Independents can participate in our Presidential primary while also voting for critical down-ballot candidates. We can end the current one-party control of our state by increasing participation in democracy and welcoming all shades of blue in order to grow the good life for all Nebraskans.”
Critics of the caucuses cited the several-hour investment that voters have to make and said it could decrease turnout in the May primary, when nominees for other offices are chosen.
By law, Democratic presidential nominees must still appear on the primary ballot. And Nebraska Republicans still select their nominee on primary election day.
Kleeb also noted that the Democratic National Committee had created new rules for caucuses. And she said the state party would likely have to spend $100,000 or more on securing early voting ballots.
The state group had previously passed a resolution that called for an end to caucuses.
“To make sure that Democrats do not stay home on primary election day, at the expense of down-ballot candidates and issues, it is necessary to end the caucus experiment,” the resolution says.
In 2016, a rule designed to keep the caucus on track required that organizers cut off the registration line 10 minutes after the caucus was set to start. It led to angry voters being turned away after arriving just minutes after the cutoff. Parking at many of the caucus sites spilled over into neighborhoods, so voters had to walk farther to get to the site.
And a survey distributed to Democratic Party members showed roughly three-to-one support for primary voting over caucuses.
The party moved to caucuses in order to drum up enthusiasm, engage voters and give Nebraska a better opportunity to have a say in the eventual nominee because the caucus is earlier than the primary.
Kleeb has said that the caucuses achieved the goal of bringing new people into the party.
Shortly after Saturday afternoon’s vote, Kleeb said that the switch to the primary will be a chance to identify Independents who lean toward voting Democratic.
“So this is a huge opportunity for all of us to make sure that we are bringing those Independents to the table,” she said. “Because the reality is, we have 350,000 Democrats, 250,000 Independents.”