‘We understand just how important it is that we get this right…’
(Claire Russel, Liberty Headlines, & Associated Press) Democrats won’t commit to releasing the unofficial results of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses on the day of the vote, as they emphasize accuracy over speed in the aftermath of the chaos surrounding the Iowa caucuses.
Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told The Associated Press that several factors, including early voting and potentially high turnout, could affect the tabulation and timing of results. In addition, Nevada, like Iowa, will be reporting three sets of data from the multistage caucus process.
Perez said he doesn’t know when results will be released. “We’re going to do our best to release results as soon as possible, but our North Star, again, is accuracy,” he said late Tuesday after touring an early voting site in Las Vegas.
“We’re as low-tech as humanly possible while still preserving efficiency,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez says about preparations in Nevada to avoid a repeat of the Iowa caucuses. “I’m very confident that we will be able to carry out a successful caucus.”https://t.co/wm04SZOnRO pic.twitter.com/nIDeaJzA2p.
— New Day (@NewDay) February 19, 2020
Nevada Democrats are hoping to avoid a repeat of the chaos that ensnared the Iowa caucuses this month. Unlike the November general election and state primaries that are run by state and local election officials, the caucuses are administered by state parties.
Election officials, in general, have been raising concerns about public expectations to report results quickly, noting that totals reported on Election Day are unofficial. It takes weeks for votes to become official, after the results are checked and any irregularities are investigated. Election experts say it’s better to slow down reporting if problems surface to ensure results are accurate.
“If they set up expectations now, that’s a lot better than bungling the reporting like they did in Iowa and have everybody question what happened,” said Lawrence Norden, an elections expert with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s Law School.
A rushed effort by Iowa Democrats to deploy a mobile app to caucus organizers for sending in results ended in failure, with some volunteers unable to download it to their personal cellphones or access it and a coding error muddying the data that was sent in.
Nevada Democrats were going to use the same mobile app developer as Iowa, but quickly sidelined those plans. Instead, they will deploy party-owned, internet-connected iPads to precincts that will come with a Google form that will be used to access early vote totals, perform calculations during the caucus process and, ultimately, submit results electronically to the party.
“I have a lot of confidence in Nevada, a really, really strong party,” Perez told CNN. “We have gone to school on the lessons of Iowa. We’re as low-tech as humanly possible while still preserving efficiency.”
The Google app and iPads are trusted commercial tech tools, but election experts have warned that developing and deploying any technology late in the process increases the risk of problems. Hundreds of volunteers need training, and the technology must also be field-tested.
In addition, Nevada Democrats offered early voting for the first time — another layer of complexity that Iowa didn’t attempt.
Party officials have emphasized that a multistep process will be used to verify results that will include calling in results to a secure hotline and a paper worksheet that will be completed at each precinct and delivered to a party office. They have also been holding numerous trainings, with 55 sessions before Saturday.
“We understand just how important it is that we get this right and protect the integrity of Nevadans’ votes,” Shelby Wiltz, caucus director of the Nevada state Democratic Party, said in a statement.
Tuesday was the first time any in-person training for volunteers was held involving the iPad and the Google form, according to Seth Morrison, a volunteer who will be leading a site with six precincts on Saturday. Morrison attended the training in Las Vegas and said two of the three iPads at the location failed initially to power on. Only four other volunteers were present.
Morrison said he thought the Google form was easy to use but expressed concern for those who may not be able to attend the training and for those who may not be tech-savvy.
“I’m glad they are making an effort and that we finally have more training materials and information,” Morrison said. “I am still concerned but committed to do the best I can.”
Precinct chairs will have a passphrase to access the Google form, party officials said. In addition, data transmissions will be encrypted to boost security. The iPads will be connecting to the internet by cellular network or local WiFi, the party said.
Nevada’s process is “much more user friendly,” Perez explained.
Not everyone shares Perez’s confidence. Several Nevada caucus volunteers warned Politico that even without the app the caucus will be “a complete disaster.”
“There were old ladies looking at me like, ‘Oh, we’re going to have iPads,’” the volunteer told Politico. “And there are voters that don’t even know that early voting is happening.”
Volunteers and campaigns have raised concerns about how early voters will be integrated into the multistage caucus process. Jeff Weaver, senior adviser to Bernie Sanders’ campaign, said this was a top concern, despite assurances.
Paper records of the early vote will be available to precinct chairs if the iPads or Google forms fail, but the math formulas may prove complicated when incorporating the early votes into the in-person results.
Perez said Nevada Democrats were working on contingency plans in case something goes wrong. He noted that the DNC’s tech team has “been helping for some time, and they’ve been on the ground since shortly after Iowa.”
“We learned some hard lessons in Iowa,” Perez said. “I think one of the values that we add here is putting those lessons to bear.”