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VICTOR JOECKS: Nevada Democratic caucus on verge of melting down

To elect a class president, a high school might use Scantron ballots and Google Forms to keep track of who voted. Nevada Democrats will now be using those tools to conduct their presidential caucuses. Oh, boy.

For months, state Democrats bragged about the accessibility of their caucuses. This included the debut of early voting. They should have spent more time making sure they’d be able to execute the basics.

Nevada Democrats were planning to use two apps, one for early voting and one for caucus day. The Iowa caucuses used an app too, and it failed miserably. A company called Shadow created that app. Nevada Democrats had paid Shadow to create the two apps they’d been planning to use.

This development left them with only one logical move — panic. After the Iowa disaster, Democrat luminaries such as Harry Reid and Gov. Steve Sisolak released statements promising Nevada’s caucuses would run smoothly. Mistake. Always better to lower expectations and over deliver than to promise perfection and underperform. Next, Nevada Democrats announced they wouldn’t use apps developed by Shadow. Then they said they wouldn’t be using an app at all.

If Democrats didn’t have early caucus sites, paper ballots and records would have been an easy solution. But a caucus requires a candidate to reach 15 percent of the vote in an individual precinct to be considered viable. When someone caucuses early, they don’t know if their first selection is viable or not. Early caucus participants can select up to four other candidates as contingency votes.

Early caucusgoers will use Scantron ballots — think filling in the bubbles for the SAT. To keep track of who’s voting, they’re going to use a PDF file of the voter roll and Google Forms, which is an app. This last-minute plan hasn’t been tested at scale or shown to be secure. If participants wanted to vote multiple times, they could go from one early voting center to another claiming to be different people. Good luck stopping this type of fraud with Google Forms.

These early selections have to make it to each voter’s specific precinct on the day of the caucuses. Doing this all with paper is a logistical nightmare. That’s why Nevada Democrats reversed course and decided to include an app on the iPads the party will provide to precinct leaders. The app will contain a precinct’s early voting results. Democrats are calling the program a “tool,” but when it sounds like an app and works like an app, it’s an app. Its security measures — if any — aren’t known.

Hundreds of volunteers will be running more than 2,000 precincts using an app on which they’ve received almost no training. Even if the last-minute app works perfectly, the potential for error is high because it requires hundreds of people to calculate accurately tens of thousands of math equations. A review by The New York Times identified errors in more than 100 Iowa precincts.

It’s possible that Nevada Democrats could end up making the Iowa caucuses look like a model of professional excellence.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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