If you thought the Iowa caucuses were a disaster, the Associated Press warns, just wait to see what Democrats do in Nevada a week from Saturday. Not only do the same problems exist, the state party has found even more ways than their Iowa counterparts did to complicate the process. This goes far beyond an app, although apps are still another potential trap:
Volunteers who will be leading the Feb. 22 caucuses said key information had yet to be shared. There has been no hands-on training with iPads being deployed to caucus sites on Election Day nor opportunities to try out a new “tool” that will be loaded onto the iPads and used during the caucus process.
Adding to the mix is that Nevada also plans to offer early voting, a complicated step that Iowa did not attempt. That has prompted some confusion about how early voters would be included in the multi-stage caucus process.
Wait — what? Caucusing and early voting? That’s insane. The whole point of caucusing is to aggregate activists into a room and force them through a series of choices to align with a final candidate. What happens to early voters who cast their support for Andrew Yang or Michael Bennet? Those three guys are gonna be pissed when their final vote doesn’t count at all. Even apart from the complexity involved, caucusing is supposed to be about commitment and turnout. If states want early voting in presidential-preference contests, they should be using a primary and the regular election infrastructure.
Adding that level of complexity to a caucus is bad enough. Adding it without any training on it or on the technological infrastructure is even worse. By now, and especially after the Hawkeye Hork, one would have expected the Nevada Democratic Party to have launched a series of training sessions to see whether their system will stand up to caucus-day strains. Instead, the attitude seems to be don’t worry, be happy:
Molly Forgey, a spokeswoman for the Nevada State Democratic Party, declined to respond to questions about how the reporting process will work and the security measures in place.
“We’ll train our volunteers as soon as the process is rolled out,” Forgey said Tuesday night. She added: “I think our confidence level is the same — still high.”
As soon as the process is rolled out? The caucuses are ten days away! Confidence may be high in some quarters, but not in all quarters:
“This sounds just dangerous, like people are still improvising and making up the rules as they go,” said Doug Jones, a University of Iowa computer scientist and expert on voting technology. “How do they expect to get training done for all the people doing these caucuses?”
Concerns over Nevada caucus operation have been percolating since last November, when the party unveiled new rules. At that time, people were raising red flags over a lack of training. They were hoping to fix the problems that arose in 2016, but they’re adding even more avenues for disputes in this cycle:
After the bitter 2016 primary fight, the party convened a “Unity Reform Commission” to identify ways to reform the nominating race. The national party has urged states to abandon caucuses in favor of a straightforward primary. But Nevada has kept its caucuses, which are famous for their eccentric and byzantine rules, while agreeing to change some aspects of its nominating process.
Some of these changes to the “first in the West” contest this cycle, like a nascent attempt to develop an option for “virtual caucuses,” were eventually scrapped. Others, like a move to “lock” the allocation of delegates based on the initial round of voting, have been hailed by Democrats. …
But while well-intentioned, some changes have also added complexity to an already elaborate system. In interviews with senior local party officials and campaign aides familiar with the details of their candidate’s caucus plans, some Democrats also expressed discomfort over further tweaks to Nevada’s delegate selection plan since it was adopted by the state party’s central committee in the spring.
For example, recently-added language to the plan could change the outcome of the “realignment” process on caucus day.
In order to win delegates at each precinct, candidates must secure enough votes to meet a minimum “viability threshold.” Supporters of candidates that fall short of this bar can switch their picks during “realignment” on caucus day.
How does that work for the early voters, though? Do their votes just get discarded in the final alignment, or do other people make decisions on where those votes go? If Democrats only had two or three viable candidates, it might not matter, but at least a half-dozen serious candidates will press all of these potential faults to a breaking point. This has all of the earmarks of another Hawkeye Hork, only this time there’s no excuse for not foreseeing it.
Meanwhile, the candidates will still have to compete for the votes on the ground no matter what system is in place. Bernie Sanders might already have a problem extending his winning streak to Nevada, as Jon Ralston told MSNBC last night. The powerful culinary union has started putting up posters warning their members that Bernie’s Medicare for All would “end health care” to unions. That might give Joe Biden a small window of opportunity, assuming he shows up to take advantage of it — and his precinct captains don’t pitch him as the best dying candidate in the field.