In the hours after the Iowa caucuses Feb. 3, officials with the Nevada Democrats watched cable news with increasing alarm. They were supposed to use a similar app to count the results of their own caucuses weeks later. Their questions to Iowa officials and the technology developers went unanswered.
By early the next morning they had scrapped those plans, issuing a statement that confidently proclaimed, “What happened in the Iowa caucus last night will not happen in Nevada.”
But more than a week later, and with early caucusing set to begin Saturday before the Feb. 22 contest, presidential campaigns are growing increasingly anxious over an urgent question: How does Nevada plan to avoid Iowa’s fate?
Nevada Democratic officials announced new details on their plans Thursday, writing in a memo that they planned to provide all caucus precinct chairs with an iPad and would rely on a calculator and Google Forms to tabulate the totals.
“We are actively testing this process and will continue to ensure volunteers receive robust trainings,” Alana Mounce, executive director of the Nevada State Democratic Party, wrote in the memo.
But the memo may do little to comfort campaign officials who are worried that their months of effort in the state will dissolve into chaos.
The Nevada Democrats had been set to use Shadow, the same app technology that Iowa had relied on to tabulate and report the results, and the state party had paid roughly $60,000 for the contract. And while party officials said that they had tested the app without any problems in the weeks and months before the Iowa contest, they immediately moved to abandon it after the fiasco in the state without a firm backup plan in place.
In most ways, the caucuses in Nevada work as they do in Iowa, and Democratic officials have emphasized the ease of the process: You show up at your local precinct, often a nearby school or community center, find the sign with your chosen candidate and wait a few minutes to hear whether your candidate is viable — caucus-speak for having at least 15% of all support in the precinct.
But one of the most vexing problems is how to handle early caucus sites, which were introduced this year to make participation easier. Beginning Saturday, caucusgoers at more than 80 sites will use a paper ballot to rank their first, second and third choice for the Democratic nomination and can also add fourth and fifth choices.
The challenge is what to do with the early caucus numbers once they have been tallied. The now-discarded app was supposed to make it easy. Officials said Thursday that they would not transmit the results of the early caucus sites to precinct captains until caucus day, when they will use the iPads.
“I’ve been encouraging all my friends to go to an early caucus site and just be done with it,” said Robert Murillo, a precinct captain in Henderson, Nev., a Las Vegas suburb. “Just based on history, it’s going to be a chaotic day. I am assured that we have a better path than Iowa, but there’s going to be headaches of some kind. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still going to be a pig.”