Nevada's Democratic Party Scrambles To Test Caucus Reporting System

Feb 14, 2020

After the chaos of the Iowa caucuses, Democrats in the next caucus state of Nevada are anxious.

The state’s Democratic party had been planning to use two apps to report and calculate caucus results back to the party, but both apps were made by the same company that developed Iowa’s dysfunctional app.

And after nearly two weeks of speculation, the Nevada State Democratic Party sent out a memo Thursday explaining how the caucuses will work without the apps it had originally planned on. It said precinct volunteers will use iPads and a secure Google web form to help calculate the results. Then they’ll call a hotline to report them. There will also be a paper backup.

The Nevada Democrats shared that information with campaigns and the media but not with some of the thousands of volunteers who run the caucuses. That’s been discouraging for Caitlin Thiede, who was supposed to run a caucus outside of Reno. She said she hasn’t received any emails or calls from the party since before Iowa.

“So, my original precinct was going to be in North Valley, that’s what I committed to,” Thiede said, “but I’m thinking of not even being a precinct anymore, to be honest. It was really cool being a part of it, the actual caucusing, but as far as the operations, it makes me really uncomfortable not knowing how it operates.”

The lack of communication is frustrating other Democratic volunteers as well. Justin Zuniga had already been training to lead a precinct on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation, northeast of Reno.

“I didn’t receive any update,” Zuniga said. “Like, they didn’t reach out to me saying, you know, ‘Come on in! You have to get retrained!’ ” He said he went to his local party office to find out more after he first heard the party wouldn’t be using the apps.

“Last week I went down to get some information for myself,” Zuniga said, “because I didn’t really receive anything, so I went down there and asked them, ‘What’s the game plan for caucus day?’ ”

The office told Zuniga more details, and confirmed the apps were not going to be used anymore. His colleagues from the Nevada Native American Caucus, a Native political organization, told Zuniga that the state Democratic Party is holding refresher webinars. He’s planning to take part in one soon.

But the confusion about how these caucuses will work also extends to likely participants. At a Tom Steyer rally in Carson City, many attendees saw what happened in Iowa.

“I think [for] us in Nevada... I think we are going to pull it off,” said Carson City resident Omar Garcia. “We’re not going to be a repeat of Iowa, but it's definitely a concern.” In fact, Garcia would be happy switching to a primary - which is run by the state government - instead of party-run caucuses.

“I think we want to definitely just be able to vote directly and not have to caucus,” Garcia said.

Veteran Joyce Keiffer said she’s worried that even using an iPad to calculate the results could be a problem.

“I’m not exactly sure what system they’re going to use,” Keiffer said, “but I’d really wish we could go back to the old-fashioned ways and count the ballots.”

The Nevada State Democratic Party did not respond to a request for an interview, but in a statement, it said the party is actively testing the process and promises to make sure volunteers are trained.

Early voting for Nevada starts on Saturday, Feb. 15. Caucus day is the Saturday after, Feb. 22.