CHEYENNE – Local Democrats are preparing for a possible record turnout during the Wyoming Democratic Party’s county-level caucuses Saturday.
All 23 counties will hold their own conventions and presidential-preference caucuses to determine how the state’s 14 pledged delegates will be split between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The Democratic presidential nominating race has brought Sanders and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who campaigned on behalf of his wife, to the Cowboy State during the last week as the contest remains far from decided.
Lori Brand, the convention chairwoman for the Laramie County Democratic Party, said the excitement surrounding the race has prompted local organizers to prepare 3,000 ballots for the county caucus – a number that would top the previous record-setting turnout of about 1,900 in 2008.
“We don’t know if it will be a record or not, but we are trying to be prepared, just in case,” she said. “But we are expecting a lot of enthusiasm, since people are real excited that we have two wonderful candidates in Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders.”
Laramie County’s caucus was originally planned to be held at The Plains Hotel in downtown Cheyenne. But organizers later moved the site to Central High’s gymnasium, located at 5500 Education Drive, to accommodate more people.
Unlike primaries, which are similar to typical elections where a voter will show up, cast their ballot and leave, caucuses require a bit more of a time commitment and can be confusing to new voters.
Doors will open for Laramie County’s caucus at 9 a.m., and only those in line by 11 a.m. will be allowed to vote.
The event is open to the public. But voting is restricted to residents who were registered Democrats as of March 25.
“We are fortunate that we normally have the ability to register and vote on the same day (for the state’s primary and general elections),” Brand said. “But that is not the case here.”
Brand said the event will begin with five-minute speeches from representatives from each candidate.
The crowd will then be split into four groups: one for Clinton supporters, one for Sanders supporters, one for long-shot candidate Rocky De La Fuente supporters and one for undecided voters.
Only groups that meet the 15 percent viability threshold will make the second round. Brand said two representatives of each surviving group will then try to convince the undecided voters or members of a non-viable group to join their side.
After this stage, party officials will count the ballots, and the vote tallies will determine how many of the candidates’ delegates will be sent to the May 28 state convention.
Each county is allotted delegates based on population and the proportion of votes that went to Democratic federal candidates in the last presidential election.
Laramie County will send the most delegates to the state convention, with 51 of the state’s total 280 county delegates.
The county’s convention will continue immediately after the voting at The Plains Hotel. There, they will conduct other party business and select who will be the delegates sent to the state convention.
But for those following the Clinton-Sanders race, the main thing to watch is the total number of county delegates awarded to each candidate.
That statewide amount will be used to determine how many of Wyoming’s state delegates will represent each candidate at the national convention.
For example, if Clinton and Sanders each receive 140 county delegates, they each would each net seven state delegates.
Wyoming will send four other state delegates to the national convention. These so-called unpledged “superdelegates” are party leaders or elected officials who can vote how they please.
Nationwide, Clinton holds a 250 state delegate lead – not including her sizable 438 superdelegate advantage – over Sanders, according to The Associated Press’ latest delegate tracker.
But Sanders maintains he has a viable path to victory after winning many of the latest contests, including Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary.
Wyoming’s 18 delegates that will be sent to the national convention pales in comparison to other states, such as New York’s 291-delegate bounty.
But with the potential to impact the race, even slightly, Wyoming Democratic Party Executive Director Aimee Van Cleave said earlier this week that the race is causing renewed excitement within the state’s minority party.
“The only word I can use to describe being a Democrat in Wyoming is electrifying,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Aimee Van Cleave's title.