Here’s How the ‘Winner’ Will Be Declared in Nevada’s Democrat Caucuses on Saturday

RICHMOND, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 17: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a campaign event on February 17, 2020 in Richmond, California. Bernie Sanders is campaigning in California ahead of the state's Democratic presidential primary on March 3rd. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Nevada State Democratic Party (NSDP) is hoping this Saturday’s Nevada Democrat caucuses will not turn into the same reporting debacle that marred the February 3 Iowa Democrat caucuses.

The NSDP hurriedly scrapped plans to use the technology app that failed so dramatically in Iowa.

Instead, the party will use a make shift reporting system. Recent reports indicate that party workers at the caucuses across the state have complained that they have not been trained properly on how to implement the new plan.

“It feels like the [state party is] making it up as they go along,” one aide to a presidential campaign told the Washington Post on condition of anonymity.

ABC reported on the details of the 2020 Nevada caucuses’ reporting system:

Among the key changes that the Nevada Democratic Party is implementing post-Iowa is a “caucus calculator,” which will assist precinct chairs “in completing caucus math as well as incorporate early vote data,” according to a new memo that details the updated caucus reporting process sent to the presidential campaigns early Thursday and obtained by ABC News. …

The caucus calculator will only be used on party-purchased iPads – not on personal devices as was the case for the app in Iowa – and will be accessed through “a secure Google web form.” The calculator will only be “provided” to and “pre-configured” for trained precinct chairs to determine viability and award delegates. . .

Their multi-step reporting process includes “a two-source verification process where data will first be reported” through “a secure hotline to a trained operator” and one other additional source, either the calculator or the reporting sheet. The party will have a public-facing voter protection hotline number; a secure, dedicated hotline for precinct chairs which will be made available only to them on caucus day; and an internal hotline for non-reporting related issues, according to a Nevada Democratic Party official.

A total of 41 delegates to the Democratic National Convention were at stake in the February 3 Iowa Democratic caucuses. Thirty-three delegates were up for grabs in the February 12 New Hampshire primary. In the Nevada Democrat caucuses this Saturday, February 22, a total of 36 delegates will be up for grabs.

These first three electoral contests in the 2020 presidential campaign will account for a very small percentage of the 4,750 delegates who will be eligible to cast ballots for the party’s presidential nominee when the Democratic National Convention convenes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this July.

Caucuses differ from primaries in several ways. Perhaps the most important way is this: The administration of the election in a primary is handled by the state government through the Secretary of State’s office. In contrast, the administration of a caucus is handled by the political party conducting the caucus.

The steps in the process to determine the winner of the Nevada Democrat caucuses this Saturday are similar the steps in the Iowa Democrat caucuses, but there are several notable differences.

First, early voting, which began in Nevada on Saturday and continues until Tuesday, is allowed.

Second, the caucus day events begin at noon, rather than 7 p.m., as was the case in Iowa.

Third, the “winner” is determined by the number of county convention delegates selected rather than the number of “state delegate equivalents” determined, as is the case in Iowa. (Iowa Democrats select county convention delegates during their caucuses, and then add an additional step, selecting “state delegate equivalents,” who in turn select the state’s convention delegates.)

As was the case in Iowa, the NSDP will report three results from every one of the 1,712 caucus locations in the state, resulting in a cumulative total as follows:

  1. First alignment votes
  2. Second alignment votes
  3. Final number of county convention delegates selected.

Previously, in 2016, only the number of county convention delegates selected for each candidate was reported.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the Nevada Democrat caucuses, securing 52.6 percent of the county delegates selected (6,316). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) finished in second with 47.3 percent of the county delegates selected (5,678).

Clinton took 20 of the state’s 35 DNC delegates in 2016, compared to Sanders, who took 15.

As was the case in Iowa, the Sanders campaign and others pressed to successfully change the reporting of results in the Nevada Democrat caucuses so that first alignment votes and second alignment votes will be reported, as well as county convention delegates selected.

Early voters in the Nevada Democrat caucuses mark their ballot with their top three presidential candidates, ranked in order of preference. Those ballots are delivered in person to the local caucus locations, and the results will be added after the first alignment on Saturday’s caucus day at each caucus location. (There were 1,712 precincts in 2016. Politico estimates there will be about 2,000 “precinct sites” in 2020.)

On Saturday, in person voting begins at precinct locations across the state, as KIRO reported:

On caucus Day, Nevadans will caucus in two different ways. Voters will caucus in locations across the state beginning at noon. They will fill out a presidential preference card with their first choice for president. Like in Iowa, if the caucus-goer’s first-choice doesn’t meet the “viability threshold” or attract 15% support from the caucus-goers, a voter can “realign,” or pick another candidate who is already viable or the voter can join with others to make help make another candidate viable.

The second way Nevadans will vote applies to those who work in Las Vegas’ hospitality industry and the city’s casinos. These caucuses, called “strip caucuses” because it involves employees of the Las Vegas Strip, allow hotel and casino workers who would have trouble getting to caucus sites to caucus in businesses along the Strip. The Strip caucus takes place on Saturday.

Nevada offers a twist on candidate viability determination after the first alignment votes are calculated, not found in Iowa, as KIRO reported:

For precincts electing four or more delegates, the viability threshold is 15%. For precincts electing three delegates, the threshold is one-sixth of the attendees. For precincts electing two delegates, the threshold is 25%.

If it all works as is planned, the first candidate preferences from the early voters will be added to the in-person first alignment numbers for each candidate

It is possible that a number of caucuses around the state may experience delays after the first alignment has been completed before the number of candidates who are “viable”—that is have received more than 15 percent of the first alignment votes cast in person and in early voting—is determined. If it all works as is planned, the number one voter preferences from the early voting preferences will be added to the in-person first alignment numbers for each candidate

Another potential delay could occur in determining the results of the second alignment. While the number of in-person second alignment votes should be relatively easy to determine, the caucus location leaders will have to sort through the early voting results to determine the second presidential candidate preference for early voters whose first presidential candidate preference has been determined to not be “viable” in the first alignment.

After the second alignment results are recorded at each caucus location, a next step in the process—calculating the county convention delegates—must take place, using a formula which appears to have the same kind of weighting process used in the Iowa Democrat caucuses.

It is also possible that when all the results from Saturday’s Nevada caucuses are reported, one candidate may receive more first alignment and/or second alignment votes, while a different candidate receives more county convention delegates votes, so two campaigns may claim victory.

As Breitbart News reported, the victor in the Iowa Democrat caucuses was determined by a complex process that ended in the selection of state delegate equivalents. The candidate with the most state delegate equivalents was declared the winner.

Because of reporting problems, two weeks after the caucuses were held, the Associated Press has yet to declare a winner.

The campaigns of Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have both declared victory.

Buttigieg’s campaign lays claim to victory in Iowa on the basis that it has, so far, been awarded two more state delegate equivalents than Sanders.

Sanders’ campaign lays claim to victory in Iowa on the basis that Sanders received 6,000 more votes than second place Buttigieg, 24.7 percent to 21.3 percent.

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