With less than a month until the Nevada caucus, Washoe County Democrats are holding training sessions to teach newcomers how it works. To demystify the process, our reporter Julia Ritchey attended a mock caucus earlier this week.
About 50 people crowd into the Washoe County Democratic headquarters in Reno to learn how to caucus. But tonight, instead of pledging support for a candidate, they get to choose their preferred Muppet.
Volunteer: "Please go ahead and stand in the preference group of your choice..."
Volunteers hold up large poster boards in all four corners of the room, one for Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Kermit and an Uncommitted Sam the Eagle.
Disorder quickly sets in as attendees criss-cross the room trying to decide which Muppet best represents their values. Organizers encourage the groups to try and persuade people to defect and a few diehard Fozzie supporters start making impassioned stump speeches.
"I like his stand on illegal bear populations — waka, waka, waka," says one Fozzie supporter.
"He hasn't taken any money from Goldman Sachs!" says another supporter.
Fifteen minutes pass and organizers call the group to order and begin to count each faction.
After the dust settles, it’s clear that each muppet has enough support to be a viable candidate who can be awarded delegates. But to figure out how many, a volunteer has to explain the formula.
"I'm multiplying the number of supporters in Fozzie's group, which is 16; I'm multiplying by the number of delegates that we're awarding in this precinct, which is eight, and then dividing by the number of attendees, which is 51, and we get 2.51 ... and then we're going to round up to three."
Got that? After tallying up each group, Kermit and Fozzie are top with the most delegates.
In the real caucus next month, each group will select its delegates who will represent them at the county convention in April, and from there the state convention in May.
After the count, regional field director Kerry Durmick fields questions to try to clear up some of the confusion.
She reassures the crowd that plenty of site leaders will be at the precincts to usher them through the process, though the party is still short about 75 precinct chairs.
She says as much as people may dislike it, Nevada’s caucus has been around since the '80s and funnels important resources to the state.
"This does help organize our party; it does help people get activated," she says. "We have recruited 500-600 volunteers in Northern Nevada. There are a lot of benefits for our party for us to go into the general [election]."
Paul Etxeberri is a retired postal worker from Reno. It will be his first time caucusing as a precinct captain for the Bernie Sanders' campaign. He finds the process confusing and is skeptical of its fairness.
"I have my doubts about the caucus system, quite a bit," he says. "How deeply are delegates committed to vote for the person they represent or are supposed to represent?"
Assembleywoman Amber Joyner, representing Washoe, has only caucused once before, in 2008, but she's excited for this year's primary. With Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders running neck and neck in Iowa and New Hampshire, Nevada could play a deciding role.
"You know we have two very small states going before us; they're not very diverse states," she says. "We're much more diverse here in the Nevada, and we are also first in the West. So for all those reasons, it's going to be crucial to see who the candidate is coming out of our state."
Although Joyner has pledged support for Clinton in the main election, tonight she caucused for Fozzie.
"At first I was uncommitted and then there was a very persuasive member of the group who had all kinds of platform positions that Fozzie was going to fight for," she says. "For certain other bears that were underprivileged and needed help, and I thought that that was a very persuasive argument."
Joyner says she plans to bring her kids with her on February 20th and teach them how to caucus so they can learn to make their voices heard.