When the Democrats held their caucus on Saturday, things were a mess. There’s no other way to put it if we’re to be honest about it. There were multiple reports of insufficient space at some precincts, voters running out of time and worrying that they might have to return to work because it took too long, Spanish language ballots being handed out when they ran out of English documents and the cutting of cards to break ties. How many people actually showed up to caucus may never be known conclusively. But surely the buttoned down, all business Republicans will account themselves with great aplomb, right?
That might be a bold assumption, at least listening to the folks on the inside of the process. Nevada is still fairly new to the caucus game, as compared to Iowa at least, and there are kinks to be worked out of the system for both parties. This has some GOP elders concerned, with Politico describing it as a potential “calamity” when everyone shows up tonight.
Republican campaigns and state operatives point to a number of factors creating the cloud of confusion: a cash-poor state party in disarray, a public unaccustomed to the caucus process and a state that’s notoriously difficult to poll. Nevada doesn’t have a lot of experience running caucuses — the state picked up its first-in-the-West status in 2008, but it has yet to run smoothly, and some campaigns are bracing for possible chaos again.
“I think all campaigns have some concerns. The caucus process is messy, and there will inevitably be problems,” said a Republican presidential operative working in Nevada who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “But the [Republican National Committee] is helping, and I think the state and county parties are much better organized than they have been previously. [But] I don’t think anyone thinks this will go off without some problems at some level. It is the nature of a caucus, but we all expect this to go more smoothly than it has previously.”
That’s not exactly a glowing endorsement, to say the least. Adding to the concerns is the newfangled technology upon which the reporting of results will rely. Iowa went with a Microsoft App which created a lot of confusion. Nevada won’t take that exact route, but they will be relying on their smartphones to get the results in. (Four years ago we didn’t have the final tally out of Nevada for almost three days.) Tonight they will be hand counting votes, sealing them up, labeling them and basically snapping some selfies with them. The Wall Street Journal was already fretting over the potential for “mayhem” on Sunday, citing a lack of funding and personnel trained on how to manage the process.
Here in Clark County, which includes greater Las Vegas and 73% of the state’s population, Republican volunteers at each of the 36 caucus locations will count ballots by hand, write the results on an envelope, take a photograph of the envelope and text the photo to Ed Williams, the Clark County Republican Party chairman, and to state GOP officials. The state party is also allowing the Associated Press to monitor the results as they come in from precincts; in 2012 the party announced results itself on Twitter.
Much like the Democrats, this isn’t a state run effort by the party. Everything is broken down by counties, with each one being responsible for their own funding, training and reporting. The local precincts report up to the county and from there through a second layer of coverage up to the state. What could possibly go wrong?
Personally I suspect we’ll have an answer tonight, though how much confidence you have in it is left to the observer. The last bits of polling we saw indicate that Donald Trump is out in front by a wide enough margin that the only interesting question will once again be the fight for second place. But given how challenging it is to poll such a new and disorganized caucus process, who knows? You might wake up in the morning to find out that Ben Carson won in a landslide. They will be handing out 30 delegates: 12 based on results in each congressional district, 3 for party leaders, 5 bonus delegates and 10 “at large.” If they get the results in quickly enough, we might even how many each candidate gets by midnight… unless somebody forgets their selfie stick.