Here we go again!
Fresh off the unmitigateddisaster that was the Iowa Democratic caucuses, Nevada will soon kick off caucuses of its own. After understandably scrapping its plans to use an app made by Shadow Inc., the company behind Iowas ill-fated caucus app, the Nevada State Democratic Party appears to have come up with a last-minute replacement just in time for early voting to begin on February 15.
The party has yet to make an official announcement, but, on Thursday, it sent a memo to presidential campaigns informing them that this would take the form of party-distributed iPads equipped with caucus calculators accessed through a simple Google form.
How Nevadas Democratic caucuses work
The caucus process differs depending on the state (and political party) that does them. Nevada has been the third in the country to hold its Democratic nominating contest since 2008. Then-Sen. Harry Reid argued that his state better reflected the diversity of Americas population than Iowa (the first caucus) and New Hampshire (the first primary) did and so should have the chance to be an influential part of the presidential nominating process.
This year, Nevadas Democratic caucus will be held on February 22, with early voting taking place February 15-18. This is the first time the caucus has had early voting, allowing registered Democrats to make their choice in person at any early voting location in their county. (While the caucuses are considered closed to non-affiliated voters, Nevada has same-day voting registration.)
On February 22, caucus-goers will report to their precinct and stand on the side of the room designated for the candidate they prefer. If a candidate doesnt get a certain threshold of support typically 15 percent, depending on the number of delegates at stake theyll be considered non-viable and their supporters will have to realign to a viable candidate (or not vote at all). There will also be paper ballot backups which, if the caucuses are anything like Iowas, will come in handy.
Once thats all figured out, voters pick delegates to represent their selections at conventions. In the event of a tie, the delegate will be decided by a drawing of playing cards. Yes, thats right: In Vegas fashion, whichever group picks the highest card wins the delegate. If the groups pick the same card, the winner is chosen according to the cards suit (spades being the highest, then hearts, diamonds, and finally clubs).
The candidate who gets the most delegates not the one who gets the most votes is considered the winner.
What changed in 2020
This year is the first to allow for early voting, the hope being that the option will increase participation among potential voters who cant make the February 22 event. Early voters will submit their top three to five choices on a paper ballot. If a voters first choice doesnt meet the threshold, their vote will be awarded to the next viable candidate on their list. The new rules also limit the number of realignment rounds to one.
Also, precinct chairs will have to submit both the raw vote totals as well as the delegate counts to party headquarters, much like Iowas precinct chairs did. That means theyll report three sets of numbers: the first round of votes, the votes after the realignment, and the number of delegates awarded. In previous contests, precinct chairs simply reported the number of delegates won. While this increases transparency, it also adds several new steps to the reporting process.
These complications are likely why state party leaders planned to use a new smartphone app to help chairs report all those extra numbers. While Iowa had used a (different) app in 2016, this year would have been Nevadas first caucus that uses one. Nevada paid Shadow at least $60,000 to develop the app and recommended the company to the organizers of the Iowa caucuses.
In the original Nevada plan, the app would send early votes to precinct chairs that would be combined with the in-person caucus totals. The app would then calculate the combined results and report them back to the state party headquarters. Similar to the Iowa caucus, there would be phone and paper backups in place, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The smartphone app is dead. Long live the iPad tool.
In the wake of the Iowa caucus, Nevada quickly distanced itself from Shadow, saying it would not be using its apps and was currently evaluating the best path forward. But it didnt say much about what that path was. News outlets reported Saturday that the party was demonstrating a caucus tool (the party discouraged volunteers from referring to it as an app, presumably due to the terms new negative connotations) to be preloaded onto iPads distributed to precinct chairs. Preloading the tool sounds like a good idea, considering how many Iowa chairs had difficulty downloading their apps onto their mobile devices, let alone actually running them.
On Thursday, a memo from the state party went out to campaigns that shed a littlemorelight on the process: The tool is, in fact, a caucus calculator accessed through a Google form that would help precinct chairs figure out which candidates met the threshold and how many delegates to award the ones who did. Chairs will then be able to report their results to the party through the tool/web form. The process sounds very similar to the functions of the app it replaces. The party said it consulted with the Democratic National Committee, the Department of Homeland Security, and Google to ensure security from potential hackers, which was, once upon a time, the primary concern about the caucus apps.
Chairs will have to report their results through a phone hotline and then have the option of using either the iPad tool or a paper worksheet for the required second source, which gives chairs the option not to use digital devices at all.
The party did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the tool. So far, all details about the Nevada State Democratic Partys last-minute replacement have come from leaked volunteer training sessions and memos. The party seemingly has little interest in telling the rest of the world how it is preparing for next weeks caucus beyond assurances that everything will be fine. Iowa was similarly tight-lipped before its caucus, and the results werent great. Nevada might have learned a few lessons from Iowa regarding which app vendors to trust, but it doesnt appear to have learned that transparency is an essential part of the democratic process.
Update, February 14, 2020, 3:03 pm Eastern: This post has been updated to add new details about the caucus tool and process.
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Here we go again!