As they watched Iowa’s caucuses melt down last week, Nevada Democrats made the quick decision to scrap an app designed by the now-notorious Shadow, Inc, whose technology failed on election night and left Iowa Democratic officials unable to provide vote and delegate counts for days.
That decision solved one problem — but it created a bigger one. Nevada spent the better part of a year planning out an even more complex process than Iowa around the app, including the release of multiple results (like Iowa) as well as a system to include four days of in-person early voting with those results then relayed back to voters’ original caucus sites to be included in same-day caucus vote totals.
With early voting starting Saturday and the official caucuses just over a week away on Feb. 22, the party is scrambling to design a functional caucus system in less than three weeks.
“We’ve been put in a difficult situation,” said a source with the Nevada Democratic Party. “What was once a backup plan is now our main plan and now we’re having to develop additional backup plans and test them. We’re working around the clock to make sure what happened in Iowa doesn’t happen in Nevada.”
It doesn’t help that Nevada is trying to pull off perhaps the most complicated statewide caucus ever attempted.
Like Iowa, Nevada Democrats will for the first time release not one but three sets of numbers: Who caucus goers backed in the first round of voting, who they supported in the second round after candidates who don’t reach 15% of the vote in the first round are eliminated from contention at each caucus site, and a third number which actually calculates how many delegates each candidate gets. That created major problems in Iowa when glaring math mistakes by precinct captains, once kept private, were exposed for all to see.
But that’s not even the hard part. The Nevada Democratic Party is allowing early voting for the first time.
That’s a good pro-democracy reform — it if works. But counting those early votes is harder than it sounds. Those votes have to be tabulated back to the caucus sites where they would have voted on caucus day, and early voters’ second, third, and even fourth or fifth choices will have to be taken into account in case their top candidate doesn’t reach the 15% threshold required to receive delegates at those sites.
The early voting part was enabled by the Shadow app, which Nevada scrapped last week and replaced with a Google form on party-issued iPads.
‘Time is running out’
After Iowa, Nevada Democrats know failure is not an option.
“It’s been complicated from the beginning — we’re trying to be more transparent, be more accessible, and bring in more people. This is the first time you’ve ever had early voting for a caucus, it’s this hybrid primary-caucus, which adds to the confusion,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), a top Joe Biden surrogate in the state. “Time is running out. They’re scrambling and trying to do it right.”
The main reason Democrats aren’t in full-out panic mode is the Nevada Democratic Party is widely considered by operatives in both parties to be the most capable Democratic state organization in the country. A number of alumni from former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s network have stepped in to try to help. But even Reid admitted to VICE News earlier in the week he was “concerned” things would run smoothly.
The presidential campaigns are sympathetic to the state party’s plight — but are growing increasingly fed up with their lack of details on how things will work, and panicked that the party won’t be able to pull off a smooth election.
“They were handed a complete shit sandwich, they had a dumpster of crap dumped on them. We know them very well and I know they’re trustworthy, diligent, committed to a fair and smooth process,” said a Nevada-based source from one presidential campaign. “We still have a lot more information we want to see.”
The party sent a memo with new updates from the party on Thursday, including more information on how early voting is supposed to be counted on election day.
“We understand just how important it is that we get this right and protect the integrity of Nevadans’ votes. We are confident in our backup plans and redundancies,” Nevada Democratic Party Executive Director Alana Mounce said in the memo.
That update calmed some nerves. But multiple Democratic campaigns expressed frustration that the party hasn’t been more forthcoming with details — the Thursday memo and similar three-page bullet-point memo from Tuesday sum up most of the concrete information they’ve been provided. And they still have plenty of questions about how things are actually going to function.
One Nevada-based presidential campaign operative told VICE News that their team was “absolutely not” feeling any more confident about the process after the latest update from the state party, pointing out that there are still few details about how the early vote data will be tabulated.