Since her loss in Iowa, Senator Hillary Clinton has been an outspoken critic of the caucus system, saying that the limited time allotted for voting disenfranchises too many workers who are on the job during those hours.
It seems in Nevada Clinton has had a change of heart.
Last week the powerful, 60,000 member Culinary Workers Union Local 226 chose to endorse Senator Barack Obama after “fierce lobbying” from the three frontrunners. Two days later, the Nevada State Education Association – with ties to the Clinton campaign in its leadership – filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to shutdown nine casino caucus at-large sites created to allow both union and non-union shift workers to vote during the workday. (On any given day, it would be difficult for these workers to participate without these caucus sites. It will be even more difficult during the busy Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.) According to the Washington Post, the system was created last March with input from the presidential campaigns and – as meeting minutes reveal – “several of the parties to the suit were there and approved of the process.”
Karen Finney, Director of Communications at the Democratic National Committee, said to me, “The state party submitted their delegate selection plan last May and it was available for public comment…. They also had a thorough review process in the state and informed the campaigns months ago about their plans. A key goal is to ensure the broadest participation by eligible voters. The state party has worked hard to increase the number of caucus locations throughout the state, there are some 520 public locations statewide, and there are more caucus locations than there were polling locations in 2006. The at-large [casino] precincts are 9 percent of those locations [and] are open to all shift- workers within a 2.5 mile radius.”
This is the first time in the 2008 presidential race that the Latino vote will play a significant role in an electoral outcome, and nearly 40 percent of the Culinary union’s membership is Latino. Estimates put the votes at the casino sites at more than 10 percent of the statewide total. According to the Los Angeles Times, at a union rally Obama spoke out against the lawsuit which would “disenfranchise the hard-working folks on the Strip…. You don’t win an election . . . by trying to keep people out. You’re supposed to try to bring them in.” He also said of the lawsuit’s timing, “Ever since I got the support of Local 226, the lawyers decided to get involved. The rules were OK when the other campaigns thought they would win the Culinary endorsement.”