The Nevada caucuses' iPad system is making site leaders nervous

Barcroft Media/Barcroft Media/Getty Images
Originally Published: 

Democrats are bracing themselves for Saturday, when the Nevada caucuses become the third stop in the Democrats' 2020 primary race. And while last week's New Hampshire primary was a largely orderly affair, many Nevadans — to say nothing of Democrats around the country — are anxiously gnawing their fingernails at the prospect of their state repeating many of the same missteps that turned the Iowa caucuses into the political equivalent of slipping on a banana peel face first into a wheelbarrow full of pies. And then your pants fall down.

“[Party officials have] been saying basically, ‘Don’t worry. Trust us,’” Nevada caucus site leader Seth Morrison told the Associated Press, in regards to Nevada's plan to digitize the caucus tabulations on iPads preloaded with reporting software. “I’ve been hyperventilating for the last five days.”

Technology anxieties are at the heart of many Nevadans' worries, after the app that was supposed to be used to report caucus results in Iowa turned spectacularly disastrous. Initially, Nevada's caucuses were slated to use that same app, developed by a cadre of deeply embedded Democratic party operatives and consultants, per a lengthy report from The Intercept. But after the Iowa debacle, Nevada quickly pivoted to using a series of Google forms and spreadsheets to tabulate the results. These tools will be loaded onto iPads that will be provided to caucus leaders, rather than risk a repeat of Iowa's app-ocalypse.

Still, some are sounding the alarm that Nevada's caucuses may still be at risk for technological trouble.

“When you scale up something that has never been used before, there are lots of little things that can go wrong that need be quickly corrected,” Matt Blaze, a computer science teacher and election security expert at Georgetown University, told The New York Times. “It is important to have people with technical expertise on the ground on the day of, but there are also things you can’t foresee.”

Other experts who spoke with the Times emphasized the fact that Nevada simply did not leave itself enough time to test and debug their new system to guarantee it will work seamlessly on caucus day.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, who has faced blistering criticism for how the party handled the Iowa debacle, now has the unenviable job of trying to sooth his constituents' jangled nerves ahead of what may very well be a full-blown test of whether Democrats will continue to rely on caucusing at all.

“We are going to school on the lessons of Iowa and our team is working very closely with the Nevada [Democratic Party] to ensure that we have a successful caucus,” Perez told the Times. “The Nevada party is very strong and this infrastructure is what has helped elect Democrats for years and will help ensure a successful caucus.”

It's a sentiment echoed by state party chair William McCurdy II, who assured the public in a statement that "what happened in the Iowa caucus ... will not happen in Nevada."

Yet concerns over the Nevada's new system — and whether caucus volunteers will be adequately prepared to use it — persist.

“There were old ladies looking at me like, ‘Oh, we’re going to have iPads,'" one caucus volunteer told Politico. The volunteer added that after having sat through a training session, they predicted a "complete disaster."

However Saturday goes, one thing remains painfully clear: What happens in Vegas won't stay there, this time.