Nevada's Saturday Democratic Caucuses Excludes Observant Jews and Seventh Day Adventists

It seems that the Nevada State Democrat Party did not get the memo that Democrats are the inclusive, big tent party. The Nevada Democrat caucuses will be held on Saturday, February 20, 2016 at 11:00 am PST. Holding the caucuses on Saturday during the day makes it problematic for religious Jews and 7th Day Adventists to exercise their democratic rights and participate in the caucuses. Nevada electoral law requires in person attendance to participate in the caucuses. There are no absentee ballot provisions for caucuses.

Jolie Brislin, Nevada regional director of the ADL, said, "We are dismayed to learn that no religious accommodation will be made for those Democratic caucus members who celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday and, therefore, are unable to participate in this key component of the election process. As an organization committed to safe-guarding religious freedom, we feel it is patently unfair to exclude someone from the caucus process because they are religiously observant. We urge the party leadership to reconsider this decision."

The Nevada State Democratic Party justified the choice of a Saturday date by saying it was the most convenient time for the majority of Nevadans. Stewart Boss, the Nevada State Democratic Party spokesman, told the Las Vegas Review- Journal, "Saturday at 11 a.m. is the best time to increase access as much as possible for Democrats across Nevada to participate in our First in the West caucuses. Keeping this date is critical to preserving our early-state status in the presidential nominating calendar." The Review-Journal, owned by Sheldon Adelson, was the first to report the problematic Saturday date this election cycle.

Rabbi Shea Harlig, executive director of the Chabad of Southern Nevada, found it strange that the Democratic party chose a Saturday date after the Nevada Republican Party received similar complaints when the 2012 caucuses were held on a Saturday. Harlig said, "I am disappointed in the Democratic Party for their lack of sensitivity in scheduling their caucus on a Saturday which will exclude Sabbath observant people from participating. Four years ago when the Republican Party scheduled their caucus for a Saturday, after realizing their mistake, they scheduled a special caucus for Saturday night for all Sabbath observant people. I hope the Democratic Party will do it as well."

Harlig estimated that 300-400 people participated in the 2012 evening Republican caucus. Two registered Democrats in Nevada, Amy Henry and Tracy Banner, told me that they would have caucused if the caucuses were not held during the Jewish Sabbath. When Henry was called by the Clinton campaign about going to the caucuses, she explained to them that she couldn't because of the Sabbath. As of press time, neither the state party nor the office of the senior US Senator from Nevada, Harry Reid, would answer my questions about the possibility of any accommodations for observant persons. Reid's office referred all questions to the state party.

However, someone from Bernie Sander's campaign, Taimus Werner-Gibbings did contact Rabbi Harlig. He told the rabbi that he will see what he can do to have a caucus on Saturday night. Sanders, being Jewish, might be more sensitive to this issue than the others.

My questions caught the attention of Jon Ralston, the dean of the Nevada political press corps, probably because Nevada zealously guards its first in the West status. He mistakenly thought I was working for a well known Israel supporter. No matter what happens the national party has to think long and hard about front loading the future electoral calendar with the Iowa and Nevada caucuses. Democracy is not achieved by settling votes with coin tosses or disfranchising religious groups.

Two registered Democrats in Nevada, Amy Henry and Tracy Banner, told me that they would have caucused if the caucuses were not held during the Jewish Sabbath. When Henry was called by the Clinton campaign about going to the caucuses, she explained to them that she couldn't because of the Sabbath.