Special Nevada caucus draws complaints

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 04: Voters arrive to caucus for the Republican presidential candidate at Palo Verde High School February 4, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nevada is the first state in the West to vote as Republicans go about choosing their presidential candidate. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 04:
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS - Hours after Nevada presidential caucus locations had closed on Saturday, more than 300 voters wrapped around the Adelson Educational Campus here to participate in an unusual exception to the state's election laws: a chance for orthodox Jews and Seventh-day Adventists to cast their ballots after sundown.

But near the table where participants were to sign an affidavit stating under penalty of perjury that their religious beliefs precluded their ability to vote during regular caucus hours, a cluster of voters who did not meet that requirement slowed the line as they were turned away, one by one. Most had come at the urging of the Ron Paul campaign, which had placed calls to its supporters informing them of the "second chance" to vote Saturday night.

"I received probably 10 phone calls today saying if you didn't make it this morning to your caucus, you can come down here - 30 minutes away from my home - and they would let you vote, get a second chance at it," said 23-year-old Henderson resident Michael DiCicco, a Paul supporter who said he was not aware the late caucus was reserved solely for those who practice certain religions. "It's discrimination."

Stephen Melancon, another Ron Paul supporter who was a delegate in 2008, said he was aware that the exception was to accommodate based on religious beliefs, but, "I thought there's no way they're gonna be able to restrict registered Republicans who were not able to vote in the caucus." Melancon, a high school teacher, said he was working a second job in the morning during the regular caucuses.

Critics weren't limited to Paul backers. Newt Gingrich supporter James Grindstaff, a Seventh-day Adventist who made it inside and knew the conditions of the late caucus, called the exclusion of those who did not meet the religious requirement "ridiculous," and was asking around for someone with whom he could lodge a formal complaint.

Clark County GOP Chair David Gibbs said the exception was approved under caucus rules, and had been vetted by attorneys. Asked why the county chose to make an exception for religious purposes and not other circumstances that would potentially prevent attendance on a Saturday morning, Gibbs reasoned, "there's a difference."

"If somebody wanted to be there but they don't have the means, they have friends, you know, they have other opportunities," he said. "I know folks who took the day off at work today in order to participate in the caucuses this morning."

Gibbs added that the exception "had nothing whatsoever to do with anything other than the fact that these folks who could not participate because of religious observances. Nothing."

Prior to the event, skeptics questioned the coincidence that the late caucus would take place at a Jewish school named for casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has poured millions of dollars into a pro-Newt Gingrich Super PAC. Adelson, who attended the caucus, has denied any involvement in organizing it.

After a delayed start and more than an hour of hearing arguments from various candidate supporters, Paul was declared the winner of the special caucus with 183 votes over Mitt Romney, Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, who received 61, 57, and 16 votes, respectively.

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