Election 2020 Politics

As concerns grow, Nevada Democrats clarify how their caucuses will work

Caucuses will take place Feb. 22 at 252 locations across Nevada, with about 90,000 people expected to participate. Early voting begins this Saturday.

The new tool was introduced more than a week after Nevada Democrats abandoned plans to use a pair of apps developed by Shadow, the political technology firm behind the vote-recording app that caused chaos in Iowa during its caucuses last week.

Nevada State Democratic Party Executive Director Alana Mounce said Thursday that the party hopes its caucuses will run with “security, efficiency and simplicity.”

“We understand just how important it is that we get this right and protect the integrity of Nevadans’ votes,” Mounce wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Washington Post. “We are confident in our backup plans and redundancies.”

The party said its process was undergoing tests and reflected input from independent security experts, the Democratic National Committee, the Department of Homeland Security and Google, which was consulted “to ensure the process would remain secure.”

Yet the advisory did little to explain how caucus results will be processed, verified and published by the state party — questions that hobbled the process in Iowa — and was not expected to fully allay concerns from security experts, activists and campaigns.

Experts continue to warn against the use of Internet-enabled technology in elections.

“I think transmitting the results over the Internet could probably elevate the risk someone could interfere with that if they wanted to sow mistrust or doubt,” said Marian Schneider, the president of Verified Voting, a nonprofit promoting election integrity. “We would recommend they do not do that.”

Best practices include physically transporting records to a central body charged with certifying the result, Schneider said.

Nevada Democrats say they will have access to a paper trail, through the reporting sheets that all precinct leaders are required to complete, in the event that the online transmission goes haywire. Such redundancies were built into the process from the beginning, the state party has maintained, though they have taken on new salience in light of the technology glitch that threw off the transmission of results in Iowa.

The state party is calling its tool a “Caucus Calculator,” dispensing with “app” after the Iowa debacle. But Schneider said there was little real difference in the terminology.

“If it’s on an iPad, it’s probably an app,” she said. She also raised questions about how much testing and user training would be possible before the Feb. 22 caucuses.

“We are actively testing this process and will continue to ensure volunteers receive robust trainings,” Mounce wrote in the memo.

Before Thursday, officials from multiple campaigns had complained about a lack of transparency from the party, with the state’s ambitious plans for early caucusing heightening concerns.

The latest announcement builds on those plans, which include the use of an online Google check-in form to “track [caucus] participants and streamline data collection” and numeric PINs and identification codes to direct voters’ ballots to their home precincts.

This approach was announced Monday and represents a shift from the party’s original plan for early caucusing, in which Democrats could use any voting site and would rank their top three presidential choices using an iPad app. Now, early voters will rank their preferences on a paper ballot, and ballot boxes will be transported to “processing hubs” at the end of each day, Mounce said.

Volunteer caucus leaders were contacted Wednesday by organizers with the state party and asked to sign up for one-hour webinars that will train them on the new system, said Kevin Standlee, who is preparing to run a precinct in Fernley, outside of Reno.

Standlee said he is leery about the rollout of new technology so close to the caucuses, especially in light of the delayed introduction of the earlier app, which was put into the hands of caucus leaders while it was still in “late beta testing,” he said.

Ultimately, however, he expressed confidence in his ability to calculate the various figures he will need to report on caucus night. A new online calculator function, he said, doesn’t seem too unwieldy.

“Since I know how to do the caucus math by hand, I don’t think it will be a big problem,” he said.

Holly Bailey contributed to this report.

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