By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
A federal judge set a hearing for tomorrow to help determine the legitimacy of the use of Las Vegas casinos as sites for the Nevada Democratic caucuses, just two days before delegates are selected in the increasingly heated battle between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.).
Established to allow thousands of casino employees working Saturday to participate, the hotel-based caucus precincts have become enmeshed in legal and political controversy ahead of the first balloting in the nominating process that is expected to include a large percentage of Latinos.
The Culinary Workers Union Local 226, whose members man the nine casinos hosting at-large caucuses, began distributing fliers yesterday accusing Clinton of not supporting their right to vote, citing her "I don't know" reply to a local Nevada reporter who asked whether she opposes caucusing in the casino sites. Obama, who won the union's endorsement last week, told workers Sunday that Clinton's supporters wanted to "change the rules" because the union "decided to support the outsider."
Former president Bill Clinton, stumping in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson on Monday, criticized the casino caucuses, saying that only culinary union workers would benefit. Why "make a special rule only for these workers?" he asked. "For the rest of you other workers, tough luck. I think the rules ought to be the same for everyone."
The sites were established by state Democrats in consultation with the presidential campaigns and national party officials in a bid to accommodate thousands of casino employees who will be on the job at noon local time Saturday, when the caucuses begin. Rather than casting ballots in the precinct where they live, shift workers within 2 1/2 miles of the Strip can attend at-large caucuses being held in ballrooms of many of the hotel casinos. Workers in almost every casino on the Strip are organized by the culinary union.
The suit, brought by several individuals and the Nevada State Teachers Union, alleges that the casino sites create a "preferred class of voters." Lawyers for the plaintiffs, several of whom are backing Clinton, have asked U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan to shut the sites because they would award a "disproportionate allocation of delegates" to participants who work in the casinos, to the disadvantage of voters in the more than 1,700 other precincts.
Of the more than 10,000 delegates who will be chosen to attend the state's presidential nominating convention, more than 700 could be selected in the casino caucuses depending on the turnout, the teachers union's suit alleges, making those locations more valuable than entire counties in less populated regions of the state. "The party blatantly intends to treat one group of party members more favorably than others," the union's lawyers said in a brief.
Nevada Democratic officials have rejected the suit, saying all parties agreed to the ground rules in March.