FUDGING FACTS ON THE NEVADA CAUCUS

So yesterday Bill Clinton was asked by a reporter about the lawsuit filed by Clinton supporters in Nevada trying to squash the at-large caucus sites at which casino workers would be able to vote in Saturday's caucus, and he got all up in the dude's grille:

Clinton, just inches from his face, fired back.

''There were teachers who filed the lawsuit. You have asked the question in an accusatory way, so I will ask you back,'' the former president said. ''Do you really believe that all the Democrats understood that they had agreed to give people who worked in the casino a vote worth five times as much as people who voted in their own precinct?''

''Did you know that? Their votes will be counted five times more powerfully, in terms of delegates to the state convention, compared to delegates to the national convention.''

Matthews noted the state party approved the set up.

Clinton: ''What happened is nobody understood what happened ... they uncovered it. And now everybody's saying, ''Oh, they don't want us to vote...what they really tried to do was to set up a deal where their votes counted five times, maybe even more, as much.''

Well that sounds terribly unfair -- the casino workers' votes will count five times as much? Awful! Except it seems to be completely false. So where did Clinton arrive at this number? I can't say for sure, but it seems he just made it up.

As is often the case in the Rube Goldberg delegate allocation system used in caucuses, there is an absurdly complex formula to determine how many delegates each precinct receives. But the Las Vegas Sun crunched the numbers, and according to their calculation, if 10,000 people voted at the at-large precincts, they would make up around 6 percent of the total delegates for the state. Now, does that mean that the votes of those who vote there will count five times as much as anyone else's? Only if you assume that statewide turnout will be so large the at-large precincts will only make up 1.2 percent of the vote (6 percent divided by 5). That would mean, under this scenario, that total turnout in the Democratic caucus would have to be 833,333.

Will turnout be that high? Well, no. As the Sun recently reported, "Democratic circles are abuzz with excitement about Nevada’s caucus, and people are starting to think that the state party’s early estimate - recently repeated by Sen. Harry Reid - of 100,000 people might just be possible."

In order for the at-large precincts to be over-represented, the turnout there would have to be incredibly low, while turnout everywhere else in the state is incredibly high, and there is no reason to think that will happen. I don't expect some local TV reporter to go toe-to-toe with Bill Clinton when he probably didn't have all the information at his disposal anyway, but somebody should confront Clinton on why he keeps just making stuff up.

And isn't it about time we did away with caucuses altogether? Is there any reason to do things this way? Might be something to add to the democracy agenda, after we fix our voting machines and amend the constitution to eliminate the electoral college.

UPDATE: Turns out I didn't give the reporter enough credit. Now that the video of the local news segment has emerged, we see that he did in fact correct the Big Dog on his fact-fudging. Here's the video:

-- Paul Waldman

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