Nevada Democrats skirt chaos that plagued Iowa caucuses

Politics

Caucus-goers listen to a precinct leader at a caucus location at Coronado High School in Henderson, Nev., Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — After the chaos of the Iowa caucuses, Democrats were desperate to avoid another fiasco in Nevada. And early indications Saturday were that they succeeded.

Enough preliminary results came in to allow The Associated Press and other news organizations to declare Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont the caucus winner by early evening in Nevada.

By comparison, the AP still has yet to declare a winner in Iowa, nearly three weeks after its caucuses. Initial results in Iowa were delayed nearly 24 hours, with a coding issue that muddying the data reported to the party by caucus organizers using a custom mobile app.

Adding to the difficulty was that Iowa was a much closer race than Nevada, with a slim margin separating Sanders and former Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg.

The stakes were incredibly high for Democrats heading into Saturday’s caucuses. Any further chaos could have undermined the party’s credibility in the candidate-selection process. Republicans have seized on the Iowa problems as a sign of Democratic incompetence.

The Nevada results came in slowly and there were sporadic reports of problems from caucus sites. It was also possible that, as more results were released, discrepancies could surface.

Still, the problems didn’t compare to Iowa’s.

“Things have been going as expected and the state party is proud to have been able to hold caucuses without the mess we saw in Iowa, while also making history by being the first in the nation to include early voting in our caucuses,” said Jon Summers, a senior adviser to the state party.

Democrats had signaledthat results might be slower, emphasizing their commitment to accuracy over speed.

After the Iowa caucuses, Nevada Democrats quickly scuttled plans to use an app created by the same developer that had created Iowa’s app. Democrats poured resources into Nevada, as they realized they could ill afford another poorly executed election.

Unlike state primaries and the November election, which are run by government officials, caucuses are overseen by state parties.

Nevada Democrats soughtto minimize problems by creating multiple redundancies in its reporting system, relying on results called in by phone, a paper worksheet filled out by caucus organizers, a photo of that worksheet sent in by text message and electronic results captured with a Google form. They relied on trusted commercial tech — iPads and Google — that appeared to smooth the process.

Still, election experts had warned that Nevada’s use of new technology and last-minute changes to the process without sufficient training and field testing could increase confusion and the potential for problems.

And, just like in Iowa, precinct captains in Nevada were being asked for the first timeto report results from every stage of the process, revealing how the results are calculated.

Jay McLeod, a Joe Biden supporter who was observing caucuses of two precincts at an elementary school in North Las Vegas, said he refused to sign off on the results worksheet. The caucus organizers announced midway through the process that they had switched the early vote numbers for both precincts, before switching them back and forth at least four times, McLeod said.

“It was just craziness,” McLeod said. “Utter chaos.”

At a caucus site at the upscale Bellagio hotel-casino, the caucus went off almost without a hitch in front of dozens of TV cameras. The whole event was over in an hour. But it had one big advantage — because it was a workplace caucus instead of a traditional precinct meeting, there were no early votes to integrate and no need to use an iPad and the Google form.

A key question heading into the caucus was how Democrats were going to navigate a complicated process for adding early voting to the caucus process. It’s a step that Iowa didn’t attempt, and appeared to be popular among Nevada Democrats.

Nearly 75,000 people cast early ballots over a four-day period, and the party was able to process those in time for Saturday so they could be integrated into the in-person vote with help from the Google app.

There were a few reports of caucus organizers having trouble calling in results to a secure hotline. Kimi Cole, the chair of the Douglas County Democrats who was the site lead at a middle school in the northern Nevada city of Gardnerville, said she tried a few times but could not get through.

She was able to send in to the party, via text message, a photo of her worksheet showing the results. Cole said the data was also transmitted electronically through the Google form on the iPad, which seemed to run smoothly for everyone at that site.

___

Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Jonathan Cooper in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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