The youth vote, Bernie, and the trials of Precinct 502700

By Michael Olinger

Students wait in line to caucus at the University of Nevada, Reno, on Feb. 20, 2016.
Students wait in line to caucus at the University of Nevada, Reno, on Feb. 20, 2016.

Crystal Hwang is a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno. She has never caucused before. She stands in the school’s Hillard Plaza, her shirt liberally adorned with Bernie Sanders buttons. A friend stands next to her, clutching a Bernie 2016 campaign sign that she occasionally hoists above her head as they eagerly await their admittance to the university’s Ansari Business Building and the commencement of the day’s events.

“I like him,” Hwang says, referring to Sanders. “Free tuition, especially since I am a student right now, is like, the biggest thing to me.”

Hwang’s fondness for Sanders is echoed throughout the assembled crowd, many of whom are millennials, most college aged, defying the wisdom that apathy is the rule when it comes to youth and politics.

Campaign workers and volunteers from both the Hillary Clinton and Sanders campaigns traverse the crowd in equal measure, but even a cursory glance reveals a far greater abundance of Sanders buttons, shirts, and signs than are on display for Clinton. One such Sanders enthusiast is Maxwell Klausner.

“He has the courage and the audacity to make waves within the establishment,” says Klausner, a 19 year old sophomore. “I think he’s the candidate with the most character necessary to enact positive social and economic change in the United States.”

After a wait of at least an hour, the crowd draws inside and is sent to their respective precinct rooms. Once there, after being read a few ground rules, they divide into groups based on the candidate they support. Sitting amongst a small smattering of Clinton supporters in the meeting room for precinct 502700, Christian Gates does not look happy. Clinton needs 32 people in her corner in this room to attain the 15% she needs for viability, the minimum number of votes necessary for a candidate’s votes to be counted. If she doesn’t reach 32, she will be declared not viable, and her supporters will be asked to realign with a different candidate. This does not sit well with Gates, an avid Clinton supporter.

“I feel like with her experience being Secretary of State she has the power to go deal with international affairs, unlike Bernie,” says Gates. “I feel she’ll be able to give a voice to us that’ll make the whole world work with us.”

With the crowd finally divided between Clinton, Sanders and undecided, a count is made. Sanders has 182 votes, while undecided has 6. Clinton has 19. She is not viable. A cheer goes up from the Sanders crowd as the Clinton and undecided camps are asked to realign. All of the undecideds join the Sanders camp. All participants in the Clinton camp begin to leave. Among them is Marissa Coleman, a 19 year old sophomore.

“You need to vote for a set of policies, not just one particular issue and I think Hillary really is the complete picture,” says Coleman. “I knew the campus was going to lean Bernie so you’ve got to have as many voices as you can on the other side for democracy to even work.”

As for casting her lot with the Sanders people?

“I was thinking of maybe switching to Bernie, but the cheers and jeers after Hillary was announced as not viable kind of left a bitter taste in my mouth,” says Coleman, who is still somewhat conciliatory in the long term. “I’ll definitely vote for him if he gets the nomination for president, but not today.”

When the dust settles in the room, precinct 502700 gives all 10 of its delegates to Bernie Sanders. 188 people vote for him out of 207. The 19 supporting Hillary Clinton don’t vote at all. Delegates are chosen to go to the county convention and quickly thereafter the crowd disperses, retiring from their roles as civic patrons until the Nevada primary on June 14 and finally the general election this November.

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