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The Nevada Independent

With five days until early voting begins, top Democratic presidential campaigns still in the dark about new caucus process

Megan Messerly
Megan Messerly
Election 2020

Frustrated. Concerned. Nervous. Those are some of the words aides are using to describe the mood within some of the top Democratic presidential campaigns in Nevada with only five days until early voting is set to begin for the state’s first in the West presidential caucus and still no details on how exactly it’s supposed to work.

Campaigns here in the Silver State have been told that the Nevada State Democratic Party won’t be using the same app and vendor that were in part responsible for bungling the results of Iowa’s caucus last week, that the party won’t be using any app at all, and that what the party does plan to use is best described as a “tool” or “calculator.” Beyond that, aides aren’t really sure what’s in store for the state’s Feb. 22 Democratic caucus.

They don’t know how early voting, which was originally supposed to take place on an app on an iPad, is set to work. They don’t know how those votes are going to flow back to early voters’ home precincts to be counted alongside their neighbors preferences just as if they were there on Caucus Day. (A second app was supposed to accomplish that function.) They also don’t know how the Caucus Day results will be transmitted to the party.

Five aides across top Democratic presidential campaigns in Nevada, who spoke to The Nevada Independent on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about their concerns, say they’re continuing to train their volunteers with the caucus quickly approaching, but that it’s hard to do that when those volunteers have questions that they don’t have the answers to.

“It’s a little bit of a damper for our volunteers who are more hesitant to step up and say, ‘Yes, I will confirm I will be precinct leadership on Feb. 22,’ when they don’t feel entirely certain about what’s going to happen,” one aide said. “Never mind the campaign, but with four days until early voting begins, the people who are going to participate feel like they need to have a credible explanation of how the early voting and caucus process are going to work.”

Nevada State Democratic Party spokeswoman Molly Forgey declined to comment on the campaigns’ concerns Monday evening. In a statement to CBS News earlier this week, Forgey said that the party has "maintained a high level of communication" with campaigns.

"Our main objective is running the most expansive, transparent, and accessible caucus that ensures Nevadans voices are heard," Forgey said. "We've maintained a high level of communication with campaigns at every step of the way and that will never change." 

Campaigns were first looped in to what was going on by Nevada Democratic party officials during a conference call Tuesday night, the day after the Iowa caucus. Earlier that day, the party announced publicly that it was abandoning the two apps it had planned to use for the caucus, which were developed by the political technology company Shadow Inc. responsible for the Iowa fiasco.

The two apps had formed the foundation of the caucus process this year in Nevada, and, during the conference call, party officials didn’t have much to offer in the way of what would replace them. But it had only been 24 hours since Iowa’s caucus, and no one expected the party to have any answers so soon.

It’s now been a week since Iowa’s caucus, and the campaigns are frustrated. They acknowledge that the line of communication with the party is, technically, open and the party has been answering their requests for calls and meetings, but they aren’t getting answers to the questions they have been asking. One aide criticized the information they have gotten from the party as “incredibly scripted” and “not detailed,” while another said that party officials have been speaking “like they have their lawyer sitting next to them.”

Some acknowledge that the party is likely just trying to be careful and take its time, and they understand that the party can’t give one campaign information before another. But they’ve been frustrated that they haven’t even been given a timeline for when they can expect to hear the next update, let alone a full plan.

“The state party right now seems more interested in owning the narrative and covering their ass than being upfront about the backend process and just how things are going to work moving forward and explaining that all to campaigns in a timely manner,” one operative said.

Campaigns have also been frustrated that they have had to find out key details of the new process through the media. For instance, they were surprised by the announcement of the new “tool” the party is developing, which was disclosed to party volunteers at a training on Saturday afternoon and reported by The Nevada Independent that evening.

“Some news broke out of their precinct leader training, and it certainly caught us unaware and it seems as if it caught them unaware,” an aide said.

The primary concern campaigns have is how the data from the four day early voting period, which runs from Feb. 15-18, will be distributed back to early voters’ home precincts and seamlessly incorporated into the Caucus Day proceedings. Early voters will be asked to choose up to five presidential preferences in order in the event that their first choice candidate doesn’t make the viability cut, and an app was supposed to quickly perform the calculations to figure out how those early votes should be distributed.

Campaigns now are operating under the assumption that early voters will be filling out a paper ballot on Caucus Day, though aides said they hadn’t been explicitly told that. They also haven’t been told how the information gathered on those paper ballots will flow into a new calculator that the party is in the process of developing. They additionally haven’t seen the new tool, been told who is developing it or shown how its backend is supposed to work.

“We have full trust that they are diligently working on this and that they have no intention there other than creating a smooth and fair process, and we 100 percent believe that,” one aide said. “But we also want to verify and are going to ask to be able to verify.”

In the absence of that information, the campaigns have been pushing forward with volunteer trainings and trying to assure their supporters of the integrity of the process.

“We’re focusing on what we can control — turning out our supporters and reaching people where they are,” said Terrence Clark, a spokesman for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Another aide characterized it as a “jigsaw puzzle but half the pieces are missing.”

“The information is not clear enough, and it’s not transparent enough, and the timelines on having a final sense of information are not concrete enough,” the aide said. “And we start early vote on Saturday.”


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