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Nevada's GOP nominating process is confusing — and already yielded a likely winner

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Next week, Nevada holds its presidential nominating contests. But due to changes this year, when it comes to awarding delegates to the Republican National Convention, some votes will count more than others. And the winner of those votes, we already know it will likely be former President Donald Trump. Paul Boger with member station KNPR explains how next week will be different for GOP voters.

PAUL BOGER, BYLINE: With early voting underway, you might expect to see candidates asking voters to cast their ballot ahead of Nevada's presidential primaries on February 6. But former President Donald Trump is urging his supporters to skip the primary altogether. Here he is at a rally in Las Vegas over the weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Don't go on Tuesday, February 6. That's two days earlier. Don't do it. Don't use the mail-in ballot. Don't do anything. It's a meaningless event.

BOGER: His reasoning? He's not on the primary ballot. Instead, Trump is choosing to run on a different ballot on a different day. The Nevada Republican Party's caucus on February 8. The dueling dates are confusing voters, and it's leading to a bit of chaos. Back in 2021, when the Democratic-led legislature voted to change the nominating process, they didn't require parties to accept the results. Citing tradition, the state GOP chose to continue using a caucus to determine its delegates. They also adopted new rules. Candidates running in the primary can't run in the caucus. And even though there's no widespread evidence of voter fraud, they enacted what they call voter security measures, stuff like voter ID, paper ballots and no same-day registration. It's left some Republican voters frustrated.

KELLY JOHNSON: I am very displeased with the process this year. I think caucuses are a messy, long process.

BOGER: That's Kelly Johnson, a registered Republican who lives in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas. Like many Republicans, Johnson is now left with a dilemma, cast a vote she knows won't matter in the delegate count, participate in a process she doesn't like, or both, which is actually allowed. Johnson also isn't alone in her concerns. In a letter to party brass obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal last year, the Nevada Republican Club urged leaders to engage with the primary. Otherwise, they wrote, the party would make some feel, quote, "disenfranchised, angry and potentially less willing to support the Republican Party further."

Trump is running virtually unopposed on the caucus ballot. The only other candidate left standing is Texas businessman and pastor Ryan Binkley, who doesn't have widespread name recognition. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley chose to follow Nevada state law and is running in the primary. But state GOP Chairman Michael McDonald is telling Republican voters to focus on the caucus because he sees the primary as irrelevant.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL MCDONALD: You don't need February 6 - that's for the Democrats. February 8, you come out to your location, you walk in with your neighbors, you sit with your neighbors and tell them how great Donald Trump is. And then you cast your ballot for Donald J. Trump.

BOGER: That was McDonald at a Trump rally in Reno last month. Earlier that month, McDonald and five other party officials were indicted on felony charges for falsely pledging Nevada's electoral votes to Trump in 2020. Biden won with more than 30,000 votes. The Nevada GOP has repeatedly denied any allegations of impropriety, but McDonald's continued support of Trump is leading some to question the fairness of the caucus. Here's Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College.

FRED LOKKEN: The confusion will just leave a bad taste in anyone who felt disenfranchised in the process. It's very - other than supporting the candidate that sort of drove this process, no other good comes out of it for the party.

BOGER: Lokken warns that distaste could extend past the primary and into the fall. With Nevada being a battleground state, candidates will need every vote they can get if they hope to win here in November.

For NPR News, I'm Paul Boger in Reno.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBBIE SONG, "I'M DIFFERENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Paul grew up in Phoenix and earned his B.S. in Broadcast Journalism from Troy University in Alabama where he worked as a producer, editor and local host for Troy Public Radio. Paul then spent several years at Mississippi Public Broadcasting as the legislative and education reporter. His work there was featured on several NPR newscasts, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, PBS Newshour and the BBC. He’s also collaborated with the NPR Ed and the Southern Education Desks on stories that have aired across the Southeast. That work has earned Paul several Mississippi AP Broadcasters Association Awards and a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award.