Saturday's raucous state Democratic convention in Nevada encapsulated a lot of the themes of the party's 2016 election in a relatively short period: complex delegate math, inscrutable processes, allegations of deceit, fury — and a result that doesn't do much of anything to shift the race's eventual outcome.
Nevada's process for sending delegates to the national convention in Philadelphia is among the most complex. When the state caucused in late February, the fourth state on the calendar for the Democratic Party, the results of that process favored Hillary Clinton. Twenty-three of the 35 total bound delegates were given out proportionally in the state's four congressional districts, giving Clinton a delegate lead of 13 to 10. The results of the caucus suggested that after the state convention — which bound the state's seven at-large delegates and five delegates who are elected officials or party leaders — Clinton would end up with a 20-to-15 lead over Bernie Sanders, with Clinton winning one more delegate from the at-large pool (4-to-3) and one more from the party-leader pool (3-to-2) than Sanders.
The people who attend the Democratic convention this weekend were chosen during voting in early April. At that point, Sanders out-organized Clinton, getting 2,124 people elected to the state convention (according to the tabulation at the always-essential delegate-tracking site the Green Papers) to Clinton's 1,722. That suggested that voting at the state convention would flip: Sanders would win those 4-to-3 and 3-to-2 contests, giving him a 7-to-5 victory at the convention and making the state total 18-to-17 for Clinton instead of 20-to-15.
But that's not what happened, as best as we can piece together.
"We need a medic in the front. A medic in the front."
At a goddamn Democratic convention.https://t.co/XPbvMlyTNd
— Sady Doyle (@sadydoyle) May 14, 2016
On Friday, Sanders's campaign released a statement (apparently after a conversation with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid) thanking his supporters in the state and saying that working together "respectfully and constructively on Saturday at the Nevada Democratic convention" would help the party beat Donald Trump in November. On Saturday morning, though, there was tumult.
Prior to the state convention, some Sanders supporters began an effort to shift the convention rules in a way that they viewed as more favorable to their candidate. One of those changes, the Las Vegas Sun reported, was a process for verifying voice votes; another took issue with the state party chairwoman, Roberta Lange, heading up the convention. Supporters at the event circulated petitions to the same end. The scene was set.
The first report from the credentials committee on Saturday morning indicated that Clinton had a slight edge in delegates. Sanders fans voted against that report, per Jon Ralston, and then demanded a recount — but this was simply a preliminary figure. As in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, the final total delegates went through a process of realignment as the day progressed.
— Jennie Helena (@helena_jennie) May 14, 2016
That was when the vote to approve the rules as written — Roberta's Rules versus Robert's Rules, as some Sanders backers dubbed them — was conducted by voice vote. The motion, seconded by a Sanders supporter, passed — which is when the room, in Ralston's phrasing, "erupts." Ensuing speakers, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (a Clinton supporter), were interrupted by a vocal group of Sanders supporters at the front of the room.
Calif Sen Barbara Boxer: If you boo me you're booing Bernie Sanders pic.twitter.com/mAAu6YNugZ
— Riley Snyder (@RileySnyder) May 14, 2016
All of that tension set the stage for the final votes. The ultimate total reported by KOLO-TV was 1,695 Clinton delegates to 1,662 for Sanders, giving Clinton that one-delegate total in the at-large and party-leader pools. But the drama was far from over. Fifty-six Sanders delegates — enough to swing the majority — were denied delegate status, mostly because they weren't registered as Democrats by the May 1 deadline, according to the state party. (The Sun reports that eight potential Clinton delegates suffered a similar fate.)
Convention leaders declined to reconsider those 56 delegates, and, spurred by the casino — because the event was already well past its scheduled ending time — adjourned for the day. Sanders supporters refused to concede, remaining in the casino's ballroom after the event had ended. Eventually, casino security and law enforcement officials entered to force the Democrats out of the space, even turning off the lights to get them to depart.
Convention ended w/security shutting it down, Bernie folks rushed stage, yelling obscenities, throwing chairs. Unity Now! On to Philly 2/2
— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) May 15, 2016
— Rachel Avery (@rachelaveryy) May 14, 2016
Thanks to Clinton's victory in Nevada on Saturday, hard-fought on the carpeted floor of the Paris hotel and casino in Las Vegas, her lead over Sanders extends to 282, per delegate-counter Daniel Nichanian. Had Sanders's supporters been successful on Saturday, that margin would have been 278 — a number that still demands that the senator win two-thirds of the remaining pledged delegates to take the lead.
What probably worries Clinton supporters at the moment, though, isn't their candidate losing the nomination. It's the prospect of a scene like that in Las Vegas playing out before a national television audience in July in Philadelphia.