Nevada Democrats will offer casino and hospitality workers on the Las Vegas Strip a host of locations to cast their ballots during the February caucuses, according to the state party, further demonstrating the power the state’s Culinary Union wields in the first-in-the-West caucuses.
Workers along the Las Vegas Strip will have four locations to cast early ballots in February, a new move by the Nevada State Democratic Party to expand access and accessibility to the caucus process. One of those sites — inside the Bellagio Hotel and Casino — will be a 24-hour location, allowing casino employees who work overnight to cast ballots throughout the night.
Nevada Democrats have also lined up seven at-large casino locations for the February 22 caucuses, locations that allow casino workers — many of whom are represented by the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 — to cast ballots during their workdays, at Park MGM, Mandalay Bay, Bellagio, Paris, Harrah’s, Wynn and Rio.
That number is up from six at-large casino caucus sites in 2016, where union members from surrounding casinos were transported to participate.
“It’s very important to have these Strip caucus sites,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the secretary-treasurer of the culinary union, noting that they allow workers to take short breaks from their work and ensure “the workers have the opportunity to participate.”
Nevada Democrats, after the Democratic National Committee raised concerns about the accessibility of the caucuses following the 2016 election, proposed sweeping changes to the caucus process in 2019, including a multi-day, in-person voting period for those unable to caucus in person on February 22.
Democratic officials across the country — but especially in early nominating states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — have reported fervent interest in the primary process and are expecting increased turnout.
Nevada is no different. There, officials think efforts to open up the process will lead to larger turnout.
“With the more sites and options for folks to participate, we really believe that we’re going to get an increase in people participating in our caucus,” said William McCurdy, chair of the Nevada Democratic Party. “We won’t be as bold as to actually predict a number, but what we will say is we are going to have a lot of people participate in our upcoming caucus.”
Turnout in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses was down in 2016, with only roughly 84,000 people participating, down from 118,000 in 2008, the preceding presidential caucus year.
The changes in the process also highlight the importance of the state’s Culinary Union, which boasts 60,000 workers statewide, many of whom staff the numerous hotels and casinos along the Las Vegas Strip. The union has turned that size into marked political power.
“It is extremely valuable to earn the endorsement of the Culinary Union, and I believe that it would have a major impact on the outcome of the election,” McCurdy said.
The union has not endorsed a Democrat in the caucuses since 2008, when it backed then-Sen. Barack Obama over then-Sen. Hillary Clinton. The union did not endorse anyone in the race between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in 2016.
Union leadership has yet to decide whether they will endorse a Democrat ahead of the 2020 caucuses, according to union spokeswoman Bethany Khan. But they have hosted events with a number of candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
“Culinary Union members understand why it is so important for them to know what’s going on,” Argüello-Kline said. “They know when we have this process, if we participate in the process, we’re going to get leaders who will take care of the issues the working families have.”
The union, in order to ensure participation in the caucuses, often transports workers from other hotels to caucus sites and provides lunch for those who vote.
“We want to be sure everybody has that opportunity,” Argüello-Kline said. “The members, right now, are aware of why it’s so important.”