LAS VEGAS -- The Nevada Republican presidential caucuses produced by far the worst turnout among the five states that have voted so far, with 25.7 percent fewer participants than four years ago.
Only 32,930 residents participated in the statewide caucuses on Saturday that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney captured by winning 50 percent of the vote. When Romney won the 2008 Nevada caucuses turnout was 44,324. State party officials had predicted that 50,000 to 55,000 individuals would participate this time based on an increase in voter registration.
The first three states that participated in the Republican presidential nomination process -- Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- all produced better turnout than in 2008. But turnout in the Florida primary was down 14 percent from four years ago.
Counting Nevada, overall Republican turnout so far is 2.67 million, 4.2 percent lower than the 2.79 million who participated in those five states in 2008.
The introduction of Twitter feeds to give social media users instant caucus results, combined with Google maps that presented county-by-county breakdowns as the votes came in, was intended to help speed up dissemination of information to the public. But the novel partnership that the Nevada Republican Party forged with Twitter and Google was negated by lengthy delays in the counting of ballots and verification of results.
CBS network news officially called the race for Romney at 7 p.m. Saturday but by then only 8 percent of the ballots had been officially counted. It wasn't until late Sunday night that the final results were officially verified.
Those delays didn't escape the notice of national media outlets. Ron Elving's blog on the National Public Radio website carried the headline, "Move Over, Iowa, Nevada Has A Caucus Problem Too." That was in reference to the Iowa caucus recount that stripped Romney of a victory, instead handing the state to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. "So far this year, we have had two caucus states and three primary states," Elving wrote. "It should be noted that the vote count in the latter states was swift and without controversy."
The website Politico headlined its story, "Nevada GOP rolls snake eyes." Reporter Reid Epstein wrote: "The biggest loser in Nevada's Republican caucuses? The state's feckless GOP. Unable to control how its county parties count and report results, state Republicans were scrambling Sunday to explain why, almost 24 hours after most caucuses ended, the votes still have not been counted."
The Fox News website carried a story headlined, "Nevada caucuses suffer low turnout, surly confrontations." Fox wrote: "State officials on Saturday night said voters may have been turned off from the process four years ago. They also pointed out that the caucus time may not have helped people attend. They also say outreach was less than desired."
Most precinct caucus meetings occurred between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. with a special at-large caucus held at 7 p.m. at the Adelson Educational Campus in Summerlin for individuals whose religions observations prevented them from attending the daytime sessions.
But the problems encountered Saturday could force Nevadans to reconsider party primaries, which the state has conducted before. Primaries, which can include absentee and mail-in ballots and early voting, generally provide far more flexibility for voters than do caucus meetings that are held at specific times and count the votes of only those in attendance.
The online Nevada encyclopedia operated by the publicly funded nonprofit Nevada Humanities, a cultural organization, reported that after the 1980 presidential primaries the state turned the presidential nomination process back to the political parties as a way for taxpayers to save money.
In 1995 the Nevada Legislature gave the parties the option of holding a primary, which Republicans did in 1996. But the primary cost more than $555,000 and turnout was only 49.4 percent. Both major parties have held only caucuses since then.