Nevada Democrats in overdrive to avoid Iowa repeat

Nevada Democrats in overdrive to avoid Iowa repeat
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LAS VEGAS — The Nevada Democratic Party is taking dramatic steps under intense pressure to avoid the mistakes that plagued the Iowa caucuses earlier this month as tens of thousands of voters prepare to hit more than 250 caucus sites around the state on Saturday.

After the Iowa debacle — which delayed the final results for several days and sparked widespread confusion as to who the victor was in the race — Democrats in the Silver State have set up special phone banks, dispatched hundreds of tech-knowledgeable volunteers and simplified the caucus calculating and reporting process in hopes of running a smooth contest this year.

"We feel very confident. We know just how crucial Nevada's role in this presidential primary is," Molly Forgey, the state Democratic Party's spokeswoman, told The Hill on Friday. "Our No. 1 priority is getting the process right and protecting the integrity of Nevadans' voices."

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Crucially, officials said, the party has scrapped the planned use of an app similar to the one that bogged down the Iowa results so much.

Instead, the designated volunteer leaders in the 1,700 or so precincts with registered Democrats around the state will rely on a Google-based form, accessible on a party-owned iPad that comes with unique passwords to help populate and calculate the result, integrating more than 75,000 early votes with the preferences of Democrats who show up on caucus day.

Precinct chairs will also hand-write results on paper forms that must be signed by representatives from each campaign that reaches the viability threshold. Those forms will act as a backup in case a review of precinct-level results is necessary.

Nevada political observers said the state Democratic Party had been rattled by Iowa, which only used the disastrous app on the recommendation of Nevada officials. Jon Ralston, editor of The Nevada Independent, a nonpartisan political publication, said the potential for a repeat would be higher if a wave of voters overwhelmed Democrats' preparations.

"They were screwed by Iowa, had to regroup, but they are ready," Ralston said. "That doesn't mean things won't go wrong. They will. [It's] just a question of magnitude at this point."

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To prepare for the inevitable hiccup — or worse — the Nevada party has instilled a far more robust contingency plan than existed in Iowa. Caucus chairs will report results to a paid phone bank, rather than the volunteer phone bank that jammed on caucus night in Iowa. The phone number to reach the 200 or so professionally trained employees will only be handed out to the caucus chairs on Saturday, on paper, to avoid the kind of phone jamming that apparently hindered the Iowa process.

Nevada Democrats have also established two other hotlines staffed by an army of volunteers: One will be dedicated to answering voter questions about the location of their caucuses and other voter protection issues, and the second will be a troubleshooting line for volunteers out in the field.

And the party has recruited enough volunteers with technical savvy to deploy one to each of the 250 or so sites that will host the 1,700 caucuses around the state. Those volunteers will be on hand to solve any bugs that crop up with the Google spreadsheets.

The extra preparations come after the Iowa results set off a wave of panic at the beginning of what has been an angst-ridden month for a party that already faces the Herculean task of unseating an incumbent president. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has stepped in to take a far more hands-on role in helping Nevada prepare, dispatching three dozen staffers to assist where they can and to monitor the process.

"Nevada Democrats have learned important lessons from Iowa, and we're confident they're implementing these best practices into their preparations," said Xochitl Hinojosa, the DNC's communications director. "We've deployed staff to help them across the board, from technical assistance to volunteer recruitment."

Some of the leading Democratic presidential campaigns have raised concerns in recent weeks, especially after Iowa's muddled and delayed results, that Nevada could face similar problems. But volunteers and supporters on Friday voiced cautious optimism that the process would go more smoothly.

“I think they got lucky that they get to go third. They got to troubleshoot,” said Andrew Chang, a brand manager from Las Vegas who attended a last-minute rally for former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg launches new PAC to aid down-ballot candidates HuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Economists fear slow pace of testing will prolong recession MORE at an area middle school. “I think we’ll get an accurate count.”

The campaigns have taken the time to train their volunteers in the process, some of whom have come thousands of miles to observe and assist at caucus sites.

"They're using iPads and Google software and there is a paper trail and the iPads are enabled for wifi, but they also have 4G so they can operate on the phone lines," said Earl Dax, a New Yorker who came to Iowa to volunteer for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDrugmaker caps insulin costs at to help diabetes patients during pandemic The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic Sen. Brown endorses Biden for president MORE (I-Vt.), the front-running candidate here. "So there seem to be a lot of elements for contingencies. If the wifi isn't working, you can work off the phone signal. If it's all screwed up, you can just do it on paper."

Dax, who also volunteered for Sanders in Iowa, admitted it is "easy to be cynical" about the process after the first-in-the-nation debacle. Asked if he was confident in a fast and accurate count, Dax paused.

“I have no idea,” he said.

Jonathan Easley contributed to this report