LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - Mary Rooney wears a button on her pink sweatshirt that reads, "I am woman, watch me vote."
Rooney arrived for early caucus voting Monday in Las Vegas, Nevada, to vote for her favorite Democratic presidential candidate. The retiree insists that the results of the earlier caucus and primary contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively, that catapulted Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to the head of the pack do not speak for the nation.
"Nevada is more diverse and more like America," said Rooney, who voted for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as her first choice and included Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar among her top four choices.
Rooney's son is a member of the United Auto Workers union. She was shocked to see a line wrapped around the United Auto Workers union office when she arrived for early caucus voting. The polls opened Saturday in Nevada and closed Tuesday, with more than 36,000 residents taking advantage of the state's first-time offer of early voting. The formal caucuses will take place throughout the state Saturday afternoon.
The line translated into a 90-minute wait at the headquarters for the Culinary Workers Union, the largest union in Las Vegas with 60,000 members. But inside, poll workers quickly gathered information and instructed voters on how to move through five stations before depositing their choices in a ballot box. Each voter was instructed to rank at least three and no more than five candidates.
The early votes will be added to a candidate's final count on Saturday. If a candidate does not receive enough votes, he or she is said to be "not viable" and the second candidate in the ranking will be counted. That process will continue until a winner is named.
Some voters are worried Nevada's vote count will be as flawed as the Iowa caucuses, which had disastrous computer tally problems Feb. 3 and took a week to produce official results.
William McCurdy II, chairman of the Nevada Democratic Party, told VOA: "We've done a lot of work here, and what happened in Iowa will not be in Nevada. As soon as we heard what was happening on the ground in Iowa, we put our heads down and we got to work, and we made sure that we put together a process, and allowed for the training for our volunteers and our precinct chairs to have the ability to feel confident. We will continue to provide training and continue to recruit volunteers, all the way up until Caucus Day. We will be successful."
Deirdre Felgar made friends with the people behind her - culinary union workers - as she waited in the line. "I just hope that everybody will pull together behind whomever the selected candidate is," she said. The former cocktail waitress remembers when the unions wielded more power and an endorsement would translate to a win at the polls for the chosen candidate.
For the second time in four years, the 84-year-old Culinary Workers Union chose not to endorse a presidential candidate and to instead focus on the union's labor issues and priorities. That decision shocked many, including Felgar, who think there is more clout when many people band together to vote for one candidate.
Declining union membership
Nationally, union membership peaked in the late 1970s, when 21 million Americans belonged to unions. Since then, a lot of U.S. manufacturing has been shifted overseas, resulting in a decline in the number of unionized jobs. But Nevada, with its economy dependent on casinos and tourism, continues a strong tradition of service unions. About 200,000 Nevada residents are members of a union.
Analysts believe the candidate most affected by the lack of an endorsement is former Vice President Joe Biden, who has had a long history of supporting union causes. The Iron Workers Union and the International Association of Fire Fighters have endorsed him for president. Sanders and Warren are also considered for possible union endorsements.
But the Nevada Culinary Workers Union sent members a pamphlet warning against Sander's government-funded Medicare-for-All plan, explaining it would kill the union-negotiated, employer-paid health care plans. Some Sanders supporters blasted the union for its critique of his signature universal health care plan.
Longtime taxi union member Gary Bauman said he almost had to "flip a coin" to decide between Biden and Klobuchar. He said he saw Klobuchar speak a day before and "I really was impressed." In the end, however, he said Biden - a favorite of many of the union members - got his vote.