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2024 Caucus Chaos: What’s Happening to America’s Primary Process?

Half a dozen states are in flux this year.

Traditionally, most states hold a presidential primary every four years in which voters can choose which candidate will represent their party in the general election that November. A small handful, however, take the caucus approach. But changes across six states have turned the 2024 election cycle into chaos. With half a dozen states in flux, one must wonder: What’s happening to America’s primary process?

Nevada

With the exception of the Republican primary in 1996, Nevada has chosen presidential electors for both major parties by closed caucus since Assembly Bill 138 of 1981. The state had experimented a few times with a primary vote since 1912, as the Nevada Secretary of State elections history page points out, but it never stuck.

Enter the 2020 caucuses. Republicans voted for Donald Trump as their nominee – by no means a surprise – but Democrats picked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) over the establishment’s chosen one, Joe Biden. The self-described democratic socialist won 24 delegates to Biden’s nine. The very next legislative session, the Democrat-controlled state legislature passed a bill, which Democrat Governor Steve Sisolak then signed into law, mandating a state primary for both parties in the 2024 election. As predicted, Biden overwhelmingly won the Democratic primary, taking 89.4% of the vote and all 36 delegates.

The GOP wasn’t interested in making the change, however. And so – with permission from the Republican National Committee – Nevada Republicans held the legally required primary on February 6 and their preferred caucus on February 8. Only the caucus votes counted, of course, so the state-run primary was, as Liberty Nation’s Tim Donner explained, little more than a beauty pageant. Donald Trump ran – and won all 26 delegates – in the caucus, and Nikki Haley ran – and lost spectacularly to “none of these candidates” – in the largely pointless primary.

Michigan

A 2019 report from the Michigan Department of State Bureau of Elections gives a quick history of the primary process: The Great Lake State has been holding presidential preference primaries off and on since 1912. But never, until 2024, has it held a presidential caucus.

Last year, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, signed a bill to move Michigan’s primary up from the second Tuesday in March to the fourth Tuesday in February. But the Republican National Committee has rules that ban most states from holding a primary before March 1. The GOP response was to hold the state’s first ever caucus on March 2. Unlike in Nevada, however, where Republicans simply ignored the outcome of the state-mandated primary, the Michigan GOP split the delegate share to create a truly hybrid system, allocating 39 by caucus and 16 by primary.

The end result: Donald Trump took 12 of 16 delegates in the primaries and all 39 from the caucus. On the Democrat side, Biden won 81.1% of the vote in the state’s primary, taking all 115 of the 117 delegates.

Idaho

Idaho changed over from a caucus to a closed primary in 2011. Last year, however, the Republican-run state legislature eliminated the primary process, leaving parties scrambling to come up with contingency plans of their own. Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane said the change came from the budget. When his predecessor, Lawrence Denney, first submitted the initial budget, it called for $2.5 million to pay for the election. “And so, it spurred a conversation about should we still be holding the March primary,” McGrane told PBS. Additionally, there was a voter turnout issue. People were showing up in March to pick the president and not coming back in May to vote in state elections. Initially, the plan was to re-merge the presidential primary with the state primary in May. That failed, however, and so now there isn’t a presidential primary at all.

Both Republicans and Democrats chose to hold a caucus as their backup plan. Trump took the state’s 32 GOP delegates with 84.9% of the vote, and Democrats will have their event May 23.

Missouri

For the first time in over a decade, Missouri Republicans caucused on March 2. So what led the GOP to caucus this year? Missouri lawmakers missed the deadline to set up a presidential preference primary, leaving it up to the parties individually. Governor Mike Parson had signed an election bill in 2022 that intentionally cancelled primaries as a cost-saving measure.

Voters expressed some confusion after the Republican caucus, saying that it would have been nice to know they could preregister earlier. That said, one thing many conservative voters were happy to hear is that all caucus votes were counted by hand – something that no longer happens in state-run primary elections.

Trump won the state easily, as expected, taking 51 delegates. The Democratic Party will hold a primary vote on March 23.

North Dakota

The Peace Garden State held the first ever presidential primary in the nation in 1912 – and it’s the only state in the Union that doesn’t require voter registration. North Dakota swapped to the caucus method after the 1996 election, though. In 2000, state legislators decided the primary was no longer worthy of state funds, leaving the parties to set up their own caucuses. This year, Democrats will hold a primary on March 30, though this was hinted at back in 2020, when the party allowed voters to request an early caucus ballot to mail in.

Republicans continued the state’s new caucus tradition March 4. Trump won the North Carolina GOP’s 29 delegates with 84.4% of the vote to Nikki Haley’s 14.1%.

Utah

Utah, for most of its history as a state, has used a caucus convention system. Voters meet at the county level and select delegates to represent them at the county and state conventions. Those delegates then select nominees for the parties.

Issues with the 2016 caucus, however, led state legislators to consider a change to state-run primaries. Both Democrats and Republicans reported issues stemming from high voter turnout: long lines, shortages of ballots, and, in general, chaos. Both parties held a primary in 2020, but 2024 marks a return to the caucus for Republicans. Democrats kept the primary, however, which Biden won as expected.

Republicans reported long lines and technological issues at some of the 2,300 neighborhood caucus locations reminiscent of the 2016 chaos, which made the Utah one of the last Super Tuesday states to release results. The Associated Press finally called the state for Trump at 1:39 a.m.

Caucus Chaos

Some states wanted to save money. Others hoped to avoid overcrowding. Whatever their reasons, six states made significant changes to how the party faithful choose their nominees for president. The insanity of the pandemic in 2020 certainly didn’t help the stability of the election process – and a cynical mind might suspect at least some of the changes were to ensure the “correct” candidate wins. But as diverse as these states and their reasons were, there was a unifying theme: confusion.

Read More From James Fite

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