Today Nevadans will get together and for the first time involve themselves in the presidential primaries in what could only loosely be called a democratic event, the caucus. If you haven't experienced the wonders and mass hypnosis of a caucus here is how it works. Oh and don't worry if you think it sounds odd to say caucus, you are not alone.
What happens is everyone from your neighborhood meets in a single location and the doors are locked, sounds good right? At this point someone in charge, typically a large white man will tell everyone they have to form groups based on who they are supporting in the presidential race. Usually he will list the valid candidates. If your candidate, say Vermin Supreme isn't listed, you are out of luck. At this point everyone will look around and see who the cool people are supporting and who your nice neighbors are supporting and who that loudmouth drunk guy is supporting and move into groups accordingly.
Once everyone has settled down to some degree, there will be some yahoo who will be elected to be the PPG leader or captain, usually some partisan supporter who isn't the least bit embarrassed to understand how to caucus and probably has a book on the subject. You may think, thats it? Pretty much. Except, now the big white guy who is running the thing will tell the Kucinich people that their PPG (presidential preference group) does not have enough people. Basically if you have less than some percentage of the total people attending the caucus, your group is what is called "not viable", or "los3rs" in the high school vernacular. You nerds will have to pick another PPG to join, perhaps as a group, if you have a stalwart group leader who can get you a "deal". Usually these deals involve someone getting a chance to attend the Democratic convention as a delegate or something equally invaluable. No money changes hands at this point ;)
It's now that the "horse trading" begins. I don't know what that means either but, thats what they say! Often the precinct will get a chance to add some text to a statement that will be sent to the candidate or issue voters; environment, education, etc., may want to contribute some language to the state position on that issue. When we kicked everyones ass in our caucus, we gave away cookies. They were damn good cookies.
Anyway, this red rover, red rover, let the Richardson voter come over, game continues until somebody calls time and then a second count is taken. If necessary, and if there are any more groups that don't have enough people they are asked to disperse to other PPG's also. It goes on until time runs out, or there is a clear winner, or a fight has broken out. (Watch out for the Irish!)
Its not very democratic, its very public and some people are afraid to be clear about who they want to vote for. For example, if you are union member and your union buddies are there, you may want to avoid being public about your choice. Its a process that can be gamed by skilled political people and halfwits. Deals can be made prior to the caucus. For instance in Iowa in 2004, Gephardt had his people join Kerry and not Dean as a part of a pre-arranged deal.
The mathematics of the thing are why the polls make it unclear who might win. Even if Obama is up by 10 points, if the Clinton people decide to join the Edwards people they would outnumber the Obama people, denying them a win. The anti-whomever vote is often bigger than the single supporter vote. It is quite a dynamic process and allows people to mix it up a little bit over politics (without the aid of firearms, ostensibly)