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Nevada Democrats showcase new caucus tool, hoping to avoid Iowa chaos

2/18/20: Red and Blue

In a briefing with reporters late Tuesday, the Nevada State Democratic Party showcased a new "caucus calculator" Democrats hope will smooth tabulation and reporting for Nevada in the wake of Iowa Democrats' failure to report any of their caucus results on the night of their voting contest two weeks ago. However, key questions remain unanswered about the party-run process here in the final days before the caucuses on Saturday, February 22.

As first detailed by The Nevada Independent, the tool consists of a series of Google Forms and links to read-only previews of Google Sheets that assist caucus chairs in determining viability and realignment at each precinct. 

Accessed through links on iPads provided by the party, the tool is supposed to instantly combine volunteers' entries of in-person results at each precinct with early votes already tabulated by the state party, displaying them in spreadsheets accessed through the embedded 4G connections for each tablet.

The state party has begun to train volunteers and campaigns on using the tool in person and through training slides posted online by the state party. The iPads will be distributed through site leads in the coming days. The tool will not be able to interact with live results until Saturday, the day of the caucuses.

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Nevada Democratic Party screenshot from training video on "caucus calclulator." Nevada Democratic Party

Volunteers began practicing with the calculator Tuesday night, party officials said, with some 80 training sessions scheduled through the rest of the week.

The party said that results from the four days of early voting are being scanned "similar to a scantron," and the scans would be audited to ensure the results are being recorded accurately. Party officials on Wednesday said they were unaware of any errors in the automatic scanning process.

CBS affiliate KLAS reported Tuesday that some ballots for early caucus voting had been invalidated, in some cases because they were missing a signature. The party said Tuesday that 65 ballots had been invalidated because voters had not selected the minimum three candidates, as required for early voters. 

As a backup, officials said precinct chairs will be provided with a printed, anonymized list of ballots for their precincts summarizing the scanned preferences for each caucus-goer. Chairs will not have access that allows them to see original early votes or photocopies.

The state party said Wednesday that 70,000 Democrats had voted early in the state, suggesting turnout could be high on Saturday. In 2016, a total of 84,000 participated in the Nevada caucuses. Some campaigns reported delays in receiving early voting turnout data supplied through a data service called VAN, complaining that the service lagged publicly announced figures. Nevada Democratic Party officials declined to answer questions on this.

Multiple campaign aides told CBS News they suspect the delay was due to a manual data entry step in tallying the early votes, when preference cards were attached to their home precincts.

The party also denied reports of iPads crashing at the early vote sites, which some blamed for contributing to hours-long lines at locations throughout the state. 

The state party has chalked up the delays to unprecedented voter engagement and security checks. But volunteers said a shortage of volunteers, an inefficiently designed process, and poor information-sharing between sites also led to the frustrating wait times.

And the party declined to answer most of the specific questions about the reporting process, a key factor in the Iowa results snafu. It did, however deny that the "caucus calculator" would play a role in reporting results, despite the fact that it appears to populate a spreadsheet in the state party's cloud with results from caucus sites.

In fact, the reporting process is set up to be fairly low-tech. In memos released to the press and in caucus training sessions, chairs have been instructed to report results on the day of the caucuses by calling a "reporting hotline" with a secret passphrase and texting a photo of their documents to the state party.

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