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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada's caucus system for presidential nominees is on shaky ground after senators approved a measure seeking to replace it with a primary election.
Senators voted 11-9 on Tuesday to approve SB421, with Democrats opposing. The measure now moves to the Assembly.
The bill would preserve Nevada's influential position as one of the earliest states to nominate a presidential candidate. But it would change the selection process from a gathering of only the most motivated party activists to a regular election among all voters.
It would also move the primary election date to the last Tuesday in February. The primary is currently held in June.
Republican Sen. James Settelmeyer said the measure would put Nevada in a unique political position and dumping the caucus system would increase turnout.
"We'd be the first state in the union to have early voting for the president of the United States," he said.
Democrats opposed the bill on concerns that moving up the primary date would lead to mass campaigning during the holidays, and that moving the primary would decrease turnout.
"If this is not designed to inhibit citizen participation, then I'm not clear to its purpose," Democratic Sen. Pat Spearman said.
The bill was amended Monday to allow the heads of national parties, including Democrats, to opt out of the caucus system.
Caucus opponents say the process gives an edge to marginal candidates whose supporters can take over the gatherings.
Settelmeyer said caucuses can deter voter participation by requiring people to publicly reveal who they support, while a primary vote would preserve their decision in private.
"Anything we do to increase voter participation in picking the leader of the free world is a good thing," he said.