Volunteers and campaigns worry about results reporting ahead of Nevada caucuses
Posted February 14, 2020 7:00 a.m. EST
CNN — With the Nevada Democratic caucuses only a week away, both caucus workers and presidential campaigns are worried about the lack of detail the state party is providing about how the results reporting process will work.
The worries come after the state party stopped working with Shadow Inc., the company behind the app whose "coding errors" were at the heart of the chaos of the Iowa caucuses.
Having scrapped plans to use a pair of Shadow's apps, the parties will instead use a "caucus calculator," as outlined in a new memo released by the Nevada State Democratic Party Thursday. Described as "user friendly," the calculator will be used to add early voting data into each precinct and calculate totals on caucus day, February 22, along with paper work sheets. The tool, which the party does not consider an app, will be available on iPads owned by the party and "accessed through a secure Google web form."
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A similar memo was sent to the presidential campaigns on Monday.
But caucus volunteers have yet to get their hands on the calculator even though they're the ones expected to use it on caucus day, and they have been given few details about it, according to three caucus workers who spoke to CNN this week.
It's a potentially worrisome situation for a nominating contest already under scrutiny after the chaotic aftermath of the Iowa caucuses -- and it has a number of presidential campaigns concerned about the process, especially when it comes to the chain of custody for early votes cast in rural locations.
In a one-on-one call between the NSDP and the campaigns Monday, the party explained that "at the end of each day, the ballot box will be transported to designated ballot processing hubs monitored by the state party, where the ballots will be scanned (similar to a scantron) and securely stored," according to a senior campaign aide.
The aide described it as a "pretty short call." The party went over the memo sent to the campaigns, which outlined the early voting process. Ultimately, however, the call -- which included the state party's executive director, the caucus chair and representatives from the campaigns -- did not provide "a ton of info," according to the aide.
"We still have a lot more questions," said the aide, "and we are still frustrated."
Nevada's Democratic Party has been holding training seminars this week for the volunteers who are tasked with overseeing the caucuses and recording the results, but certain details on how the calculating process will work have been sparse, according to some who attended the sessions.
"The training showed us graphs that could've been an Excel spreadsheet. There was no training on the tool because they're still working on it," Seth Morrison, a site lead for multiple precincts in Nevada, told CNN when describing what the state party now calls a caucus calculator. "We've had a lot of training in how the process works, but no training on the tool, how we get the voting data or how we get results to the party Saturday night."
"All they have said on the tool and calculation side is, 'Trust us. We've got it well in hand. We can't tell you what vendors we use because then they'll be hacked,'" he said.
When asked about Morrison's comments on potential hacking vulnerabilities, NSDP director Molly Forgey told CNN the party is "actively testing and evaluating our Caucus Day process alongside security and technical experts. We will continue our robust training schedule from now through February 22nd to ensure our volunteers are confident going into Caucus Day."
Part of these security efforts include working with Google as well as the Department of Homeland Security and the Democratic National Committee, according to the memo released Thursday.
"The DNC is working with the Nevada Democratic Party and we are confident that they are doing everything they can to implement the lessons that have been learned from this process," David Bergstein, DNC spokesman, told CNN. "We have already deployed staff and will continue to work with them in the coming days."
The state party told CNN last week that they had "eliminated the use of any apps" in the caucus process following the problems in Iowa. But some fear that similar issues from the app used in Iowa could occur with the caucus calculator.
"In Vegas, everything is about odds. I feel right now, they are about 90% ready. I feel pretty good. They've been working their butts off. They don't want Iowa," said Chris Erbe, a volunteer precinct captain. Others, like Morrison, believe the only way to avoid that scenario is to put everything --including the current challenges -- out in the open now.
"I said to my friend on Saturday at the event ... which is worse? If some of us blow the whistle now and Nevada is embarrassed? Or if we don't blow the whistle and we have another Iowa?"