Nevada Democrats Fret Over Repeat of Iowa Chaos: ‘I Am Nervous’

Nevada Democrats are holding last-minute training classes to train volunteers on a new tool to calculate and report results of their presidential caucus on Saturday, trying to stave off a repeat of the debacle with Iowa’s caucuses on Feb. 3.

Party leaders caution the results of the presidential nominating contest may not come quickly, even while saying they hope to know the winner on Saturday.

As in Iowa, the party will report results from three steps in the caucus process — requiring the use of a new calculator to compute the number of county delegates from each precinct. Nevada Democrats announced Wednesday that it would hold 55 sessions that will include “hands-on guidance on caucus calculator.”

The last-minute training efforts worried some caucus volunteers and raised the specter of reporting glitches like the ones that plagued Iowa.

“I would be the happiest person in the world if everything works, but I am nervous,” said Seth Morrison, a caucus volunteer. “We have a new tool that is untested, then we have a very complex caucus process.”

Another volunteer, who requested anonymity for fear of a potential backlash, said he was encouraged by the training, which he completed Tuesday, and the reporting tools themselves.

It wasn’t complicated “for people familiar with iPads and tablets in general,” he said, in a text. But he added that he was worried about the people “who aren’t comfortable with tablets.”

Nevada Democrats had originally planned to use the same reporting app that Iowa Democrats used. But glitches with that app caused a days-long delay in reporting results from Iowa’s presidential caucus, a major embarrassment for Democrats nationwide.

Few states still hold caucuses, an hours-long process where participants gather in places like school gymnasiums and other public places and pick their choice for the Democratic presidential nomination. Because it requires a commitment of several hours on a weekend or a weeknight, it tends to result in lower turnout than a primary, when each person votes and can immediately leave his or her precinct. Nevada and Iowa have persisted with caucuses, as well as Wyoming and North Dakota.

“We’ve deployed a team to Nevada and we’re working with Nevada to make sure we learned the lessons of Iowa,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, spokeswoman for theDemocratic National Committee. “We’re not using the app any more. They are using a calculator.”

That calculator uses a combination of Google Forms, which can be used to create surveys and forms, and Google Sheets, a spreadsheet program, according to a party official and a volunteer training session attended by Bloomberg News.

“The Nevada Democratic Party’s number one priority is accuracy when reporting results because we understand just how important it is that we get this right and protect the integrity of Nevadans’ caucus preferences,” said Molly Forgey, a spokeswoman for the state party.

While reporting the more detailed results required by party rules could take more time, “Our plan is to be able to release results on caucus day,” she said.

Caucus precinct chairs will use party-ownedApple Inc. iPads with a pre-installed link that will take caucus volunteers to the pages for calculating and submitting results. On the day of the caucus, precinct chairs will receive a piece of paper with login credentials for a Google account that will be used to access the new tool, according to a party official.

Results will be recorded in different ways. Volunteers will record the results during each step of the caucus on the iPad tool and will be expected to submit results via a phone hotline as well. In addition, results will be tabulated on a form to ensure a paper record. Once the caucus is complete, the results will be submitted through the iPad tool and the form will be placed in a sealed envelope and taken to Democratic Party offices.

Biggest Challenge

The plan isn’t much different than the original caucus procedures. The main difference is that caucus volunteers will use an iPad and Google products, instead of a custom app built by a small company installed onto their personal phones, as was the case in Iowa.

The biggest challenge in Nevada may be making sure volunteers know how to use the tools to avoid human error.

“Security is also about human beings,” said Mark Risher, who leads the account security teams atAlphabet Inc.’s Google. “We have more user researchers and user experience designers on staff than we have cryptographers.”

Saturday’s Nevada caucus has unique complications. Unlike Iowa, Nevada has four days of early voting in which Democrats who can’t attend a caucus in person can declare their choices for president, a first for the state.

About 77,000 Democrats have already participated in early voting, the party said. That’s almost as many as the 84,000 who participated on caucus day four years ago.

The early voting makes the Nevada contest more like a hybrid of a caucus and a primary election. Like a caucus, early voters will be required to rank their top choices — at least three, but as many as five — for the Democratic presidential nomination.

‘Twice as Complicated’

Those preferences will be pre-loaded on the iPad tool that precinct officials will use to tabulate results on caucus day.

The caucuses can’t start without those numbers because they’ll be used to determine whether a candidate has enough support in a precinct to win county delegates. The early voting results will also be provided on a piece of paper on caucus day.

“Adding the early vote makes this twice as complicated as Iowa,” said Morrison, the volunteer.

Daniel Stewart, a Republican election lawyer in Las Vegas, said Nevadans are still getting the hang of caucuses and their evolving rules. “A lot of times they change cycle to cycle. It’s almost like everybody relearns how to do it each time,” he said.

“The only kind-of unknown at this point is going to be, how much is early voting going to change caucus day?” he said. “The eyes of the world are on Nevada on caucus day, but a sizable chunk of the vote is already in the bank.”

On caucus day, in-person participants will divide themselves into groups based on who they support for president. Precinct officials will then add to that tally the number of people who selected those candidates as their first preference in early voting.

That total will be used to determine whether a candidate is viable, meeting a threshold of at least 15% of both in-person and early voting participants. If not, those supporters will then go to their second-choice candidate — or if that candidate is not viable, the third choice.

(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

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