LAS VEGAS (CN) - In a Saturday full of charges of Republican trickery, Hillary Clinton took 19 delegates in Nevada's Democratic Caucus to Bernie Sanders' 15, and led by 52.7 percent to 47.2 percent with 95 percent of the precincts counted.
A total of 43 Nevada delegates and three alternates are at stake in Nevada. Delegates are assigned to candidates based on individual precinct results.
Larger-than-expected turnouts at many of Nevada's 250 Democratic Caucus sites led to a chaotic start to the state's first-ever caucuses.
Representatives of both parties traded charges about whether it would be legal for Republicans to caucus with Democrats, then vote again in the Republican caucus on Tuesday.
Nevada's secretary of state said double voting would not be illegal, but it might get double voters barred from voting in caucuses to come.
Clinton and Sanders drew roughly equal support at many caucuses, where voters were divided by precinct and again by candidate. Many voters appeared undecided or indicated no preference heading into the event.
Each precinct then went to its own room, where supporters spoke to sway the precinct's undecided voters. A final vote determined which candidate won which precinct. It was the first time Nevada Democrats caucused, rather than simply voted in a primary.
Caucus lines formed at 11 a.m. for a planned noon start, but long lines and an up-to-the-last-minute registering process slowed the start by more than an hour at many places, where lines wrapped around high schools and other sites.
Organizers turned away many late arrivals, and "crazy" was the most common adjective used to describe the caucus at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas.
Democratic organizers and Nevada Senator Harry Reid warned against vote-rigging by Republicans, declaring it a felony for a Republican voter to lie in order to take part in the Democratic Caucus.
Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange posted a warning on the party website Friday night: "After reviewing Nevada law, we believe that registering under false pretenses in order to participate in the Democratic caucuses for purposes of manipulating the presidential nominating process is a felony. The Nevada State Democratic Party will work with law enforcement to prosecute anyone who falsely registers as a Democrat to caucus tomorrow and subsequently participates in the Republican caucuses on Tuesday."
That warning came after University of Nevada-Reno College Republicans said it was legal for its members to participate both parties' caucuses.
"Asking individuals to participate in both is not a normal activity but it is also not illegal; nobody will get arrested," Nevada-Reno College Republicans President Miranda Hoover said. "I am hopeful that the loophole will be fixed in 2020 and while I will neither endorse nor demean the act of Republicans taking part in both caucuses, but it is important for this issue to be recognized."
Reid said that was not the case: that it would be illegal for Republicans to participate in the Democratic Caucus, and that it would be "disgraceful" for them to do it.
"These Republican plans to interfere with the integrity of Nevada's Democratic caucuses are shameful and immoral," Reid said in a statement Friday. "Rather than letting voters decide and allowing our democratic system to work, Republicans are resorting to trickery and gimmicks in an attempt to subvert the will of the people.
"The Republican Party has long decried voter fraud, but with this latest scheme they are now encouraging it. The American people deserve a fair voting process, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that these disgraceful Republican tactics do not interfere with the voice of Nevada voters."
Many Nevadans took Reid's statement with a large grain of salt, as he had been accused of doing just that during the 2010 Republican primary, to ensure he would face Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle, rather than one of two other more traditional Republicans. Reid had no primary challengers and defeated Angle in the general election by a narrow margin.
Nevada Republicans will hold their caucus Tuesday, in a different process. Their voter registration ended 10 days before the vote, in which participants will simply cast their ballot and then leave.
Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said that participating in both caucuses would not be illegal, but could result in double-voters being excluded from future caucuses.
"Those voters suspected of participating in both caucuses will be reported to both major political parties and may be subject to challenge and disqualification from further participation in the nominating process," Cegavske said in a statement.
More than 31,000 Nevada Democrats had pre-registered for the Saturday caucus, and thousands registered on caucus day.
Nevada was considered a crucial test for both candidates, as the outcome of first two events, in Iowa and New Hampshire, were overwhelmingly determined by white voters. Ninety-two percent of Iowans are white, and 94 percent of New Hampshire, according to U.S. Census estimates.
Whites predominate in Nevada as well, accounting for 76 percent of the population, compared with 9 percent African Americans and 27 percent Latino. The number adds up to more than 100 percent because the U.S. Census counts Latinos, and sometimes whites, in more than one racial category.
Clinton and Sanders square off again Tuesday in South Carolina, whose 28 percent African-American population is expected to give an edge to Clinton.
Then comes Super Tuesday, on March 1, with primaries and caucuses in 12 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia. By March 2, Democrats should know whether Sanders' unexpectedly strong challenge to Clinton will be able to continue.
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