A week ago after writing this post I thought, “C’mon, they’re not going to blow it again. They were caught flat-footed by the fiasco in Iowa but now they’ll throw everything they’ve got at averting a second disaster. If worse comes to worst they can always use old-fashioned paper tabulations and phone in the results to HQ.”
But I don’t know. Stories like this keep appearing. At this point would you bet on the competence of any American institution, even with advance warning that a fiasco looms?
I feel like the only result on Saturday night that they’ll be able to confirm for sure is that Elizabeth Warren finished last.
Read this post to reacquaint yourself with how things are supposed to work. Initially Nevada was going to use two apps developed by the, er, same company that developed the infamous app used in Iowa. That plan was quickly scrapped and Nevada turned instead to something simpler: Google Forms, pre-loaded onto iPads and provided to each of the state’s 2,000 precincts. The results of the “first alignment” and “final alignment” on caucus night (the same 15-percent viability rules from Iowa apply here) will be entered on those iPads, where they can be viewed remotely by HQ. A phone call from each precinct to state party headquarters confirming the numbers will provide extra security. A wrinkle in this otherwise straightforward process is that Nevada is also allowing early voting this year, via ranked-choice ballots. The party will tabulate those results for each precinct and pre-load the results onto the precinct’s iPad. That means on caucus night, in theory, it’s a simple matter of adding the early results at the precinct to the caucus-night results to see who won.
In practice? Well, it’s always trickier in practice.
One volunteer who has worked on past caucuses in Nevada said the Google form that will be used to input vote totals wasn’t even mentioned during a training session for precinct chairs late last week.
“We weren’t told at all about it,” the person said.
The iPads weren’t discussed until more than halfway through the presentation, the volunteer said, when someone asked how early vote totals would be added to the totals compiled live at each precinct. The person leading the training said not to worry because the iPads would do the math for them.
“There were old ladies looking at me like, ‘Oh, we’re going to have iPads,’” the volunteer told POLITICO.
After sitting through the two-hour training session, the person predicted the caucus would be a “complete disaster.”
It’s not that they don’t have a plan, in other words. They do. It’s just that they’ve thrown it together on the fly and are forced to outsource implementation to thousands of older volunteers, many of whom would struggle to use an iPad even in low-stakes, no-time-pressure scenarios. They’ve already had a problem with the tech during early voting, in fact. The Nevada Independent reports that the check-in process on Saturday was supposed to involve two iPads, with the first used to confirm that a voter was registered and the second used to complete the check-in process on Google Forms. The process was so interminably slow that the party decided to abandon it after a few hours, sticking with the first iPad to check the voter rolls but switching to paper for the second.
Right now you’re thinking, “Why don’t they just make the whole process paper-only?” Good question. Good question.
Normally this is where some key player in this saga would step in to reassure everyone that things are going smoothly and the caucus will run like clockwork on Saturday. Instead, the candidates’ own campaigns are whispering to WaPo that they’re nervous too:
Campaigns said they still have not gotten the party to offer even a basic explanation of how key parts of the process will work. Volunteers are reporting problems with the technology that’s been deployed at the last minute to make the vote count smoother. And experts are raising serious questions about a tool the party has been feverishly assembling to replace the one scrapped after the meltdown in Iowa.
“It feels like the [state party is] making it up as they go along,” said one Democratic presidential aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the process. “That’s not how we need to be running an election.”…
One campaign aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid souring relations between the campaign and the state party, likened the calls to phoning into a “call center where the customer service person only had three prompts that they use.” The Nevada Democrats’ staff, joined on the call by their attorney, offered vague answers that seemed to have been scripted by a legal team to offer as little substance as possible, the aide said.
Never a good sign when the state party is lawyering up in advance of the big night. Multiple campaigns told WaPo that they’ve asked the DNC for clarity on how things will work but have gotten little feedback, with one complaining that they’re finding out more about it from the press than they are from their own party leaders.
Things would need to go really, really wrong for this end to up a bigger sh*tshow than Iowa. But the Trump era is full of new and unlikely possibilities in American politics, my friends.
Politico goes on to note that there are other logistical problems lurking potentially. One is as simple as how to transmit the data to HQ on caucus night. Should the party provide its own WiFi or use the native WiFi at the precinct site, which might be insecure? At the moment they’re claiming they’ll use 4G for the most part, although if there’s a problem with that the WiFi issue will reemerge.
Not all of the potential snafus are tech-related either. The NYT published a bombshell analysis 10 days ago claiming that the precinct results in Iowa were chock full of errors — not because of the app that was used but because volunteers running the caucus were confused by the complicated rules governing the first and final “alignments.” Nevada’s running into that problem too, Politico notes, citing guidance given to volunteers that leaves it unclear whether supporters of a candidate who’s not viable on the first alignment will be forced to choose among the viable ones or whether they can switch to another non-viable candidate to get that person over the 15 percent threshold on the final alignment.
Rules like that were confusing enough to volunteers in Iowa that some precincts ended up showing viable candidates *losing* support between the first and final alignment even though that’s supposed to be impossible. (Supporters of a candidate who’s viable on the first vote are required to stick with that candidate on the second vote.) Imagine Nevada trying to pull off the same thing but also having to incorporate ranked-choice early voting by thousands of people into the tallying in a pinch. Thank God they’re holding this caucus on a Saturday night, when we can all get good and drunk beforehand to watch the returns come in.