Thousands of Nebraska Democrats will weigh in on the presidential race this weekend in what organizers hope will be the party's most successful caucus yet.

"We expect a bigger turnout than in 2008," Nebraska Democratic Party Chairman Vince Powers said Wednesday.

More than 38,000 people participated that year, with then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama winning the state's caucus vote on his way to the Democratic nomination and eventually the presidency. It was Nebraska's first venture into caucusing after Democrats abandoned the traditional May primary for nominating presidential candidates.

Powers described the caucus as "meetings of neighbors" organized by county-level volunteers.

"It's not going to be perfect, but it's going to be great," he said. "It'll be chaotic at times, but that's the nature of a caucus and the democratic process."

Planning to caucus or watch the results? Here's what you need to know:

Caucus basics

The caucus will be held at 149 sites across the state, including all 93 counties.

Caucus times — and sizes — vary by county, but generally take place between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday. In Lincoln, caucuses will begin at 6 p.m. Participants are encouraged to arrive 30 minutes in advance. Caucus meetings can exceed an hour.

Your caucus site is probably not the same place you usually vote. In Lancaster County, each of the 33 caucus locations includes a cluster of voting precincts.

But in Douglas and Sarpy counties, where there are a combined 17 caucus sites, each location will include registered Democrats from an entire legislative district.

In some cases, Democrats from an entire county will meet at one caucus site.

To find out where and when to caucus, check nebraskacaucus2016.org/where-to-caucus.

Only registered Democrats from Nebraska may participate. People who wish to register or change their party affiliation can do so at their caucus sites.

The caucus will only be used to allot delegates for the presidential nomination, not to elect local or statewide officeholders. Candidates for state and local offices, as well as Republican presidential candidates, will be included on ballots during the state's primary election May 10.

Democratic presidential candidates will also appear on May 10 ballots but those votes will not be counted for official purposes.

How it works

At each caucus site, one supporter for each candidate will be given 1-2 minutes to speak. Participants then gather in groups based on whom they support.

Any candidate backed by less than 15 percent of people at each caucus site will then be removed from consideration at that site.

Caucus-goers may discuss, debate and attempt to sway others, including undecided voters, into supporting their chosen candidate. Participants can change sides as they please.

Final counts from each caucus site will be forwarded to the state Democratic Party for use in determining the number of delegates awarded to each candidate.

Who are the candidates?

Four people are technically candidates for the Democratic nomination in Nebraska: Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state; U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley; and businessman Rocky De La Fuente from California. 

O'Malley has already suspended his campaign but did not ask to be removed from the Nebraska ballot.

Who will win?

Patience, please.

Early returns will be announced beginning shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday, when the last caucus sites close. But full results and the official delegate count could come late Saturday or even Sunday morning, as party officials gather and process tallies from some of the later caucus sites, including Lancaster County.

But will it be Hillary or Bernie?

CNN reported Wednesday morning that Clinton's campaign expects to lose in Nebraska, as well as in Kansas and Maine, which also hold Democratic caucuses this weekend.

Clinton's Nebraska staff has since questioned that report, and CNN changed it later Wednesday, quoting spokesman Brian Fallon who said Sanders is "going to have some victories in the week ahead."

Both candidates could see boosts from major rallies scheduled for this week.

Sanders is scheduled to appear at the Lied Center at 1 p.m. Thursday, and former President Bill Clinton will campaign for his wife in Lincoln and Omaha on Friday.

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Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton also appeared in the two cities earlier this week, and Hillary Clinton spoke to about 800 people in Omaha in December.

Can't make the caucus?

Tuesday was the last day for people who can't participate in the caucus to submit absentee preference cards, but voters can still weigh in ceremonially during the May 10 primary election.

And, of course, you can vote for president in the general election Nov. 8.

'Taste the Bern'

Goldenrod Pastries in College View will hand out free caucus cookies from its storefront at 3947 St. 48th St. to anyone who attends Sanders' Thursday rally or plans to caucus on Saturday.

The boutique bakery also cooked up a cake featuring Sanders' face and campaign logo, "Feel the Bern." The cake is vegan because owner Angela Garbacz said she heard Sanders is "basically paleo."

Garbacz says the shop is nonpartisan. However, she said, “we want to bring some lighthearted fun to the political season and reward our customers and community for participating in the democratic process.”

She hopes the cake might entice Sanders to visit her shop.

How do delegates work?

While most of the actual delegates will be chosen later during county and state conventions, Saturday's caucus will largely determine the number of delegates Nebraska will award each candidate at the Democratic National Convention in July in Philadelphia.

The state will send 30 delegates and two alternates to that convention, where a Democratic nominee will be formally chosen.

Of those 30 delegates:

* A total of 17 will be pledged based on caucus results in each of Nebraska's three congressional districts. Candidates will be awarded delegates based on their total number of supporters who caucus or filed absentee preference cards in that district.

* Eight delegates will be pledged based on each candidate's total number of caucus and absentee supporters from across the state. Three of those delegates will be chosen by party leaders.

* The remaining five "super delegates" include Congressman Brad Ashford of Omaha and four other Democratic National Committee members. While three have committed to supporting Clinton, those delegates are technically unpledged and can change their votes at the national convention.

"These commitments have the same effect as those commitments from that wide receiver who was going to go to Nebraska," Powers said. "Ask (Nebraska football coach) Mike Riley about him — he's at Clemson now."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com. On Twitter @zachamiLJS.

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Assistant city editor

Zach Pluhacek is an assistant city editor.

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