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Could the Nevada Caucuses Be a Repeat of the Iowa Mess?

Luke Darby

Last week, the New Hampshire primary wrapped up uneventfully. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders squeaked out a win, with 25.7 percent of the vote, and former vice president Joe Biden limped in at fifth place, perhaps spelling the end of his frontrunner status. It was a contrast to the disastrous and embarrassing Iowa caucus, which was riddled with questionable math, shoddy preparation, and bizarre decision-making, like releasing the results in staggered chunks. A new app that the Iowa Democratic Party adopted was a failure, and the state party so badly fumbled its response to the breakdown, that chairman Troy Price was forced to resign and the future of the Iowa caucuses is now up in the air.

Critics have long accused caucuses of being anti-democratic, difficult to access, and needlessly convoluted. So much so that more states have abandoned them for primaries in recent years, and only four states, including North Dakota and Wyoming, still use them. The second caucus of the primary season is coming up this Saturday in Nevada. Unlike Iowa, where polling showed an incredibly tight race between Sanders, Biden, and South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, the polls in Nevada show Sanders with a solid lead—Data for Progress has him at 35 percent, with Warren trailing at 16 percent. While Nevada is historically difficult to poll, advisers to three rival campaigns told POLITICO that the best anyone else is hoping for right now is second or third place.

Still, Nevada may be poised to be as much of a mess as Iowa was earlier this month. The Nevada Democratic Party had originally planned to use the same technology that Iowa Democrats used, an apparently untested and deeply flawed app produced by the ominously named Shadow Inc. Once it became obvious that the Iowa caucus had been botched, Nevada Democrats declared "what happened in the Iowa caucus last night will not happen in Nevada," doing away with plans to use the same app. Last week, the state party announced that it would instead use "a simple, user-friendly calculator," but apparently that description itself is an oversimplification.

Speaking to POLITICO, multiple Nevada caucus volunteers have warned that the Saturday vote is shaping up to be "a complete disaster." In lieu of the Shadow app, Nevada Democrats were planning to distribute iPads with access to a Google form to the state's 2,000 precincts. But as recently as late last week, the Google form wasn't even mentioned at training session. "We weren’t told at all about it," one volunteer said. And the iPads weren't mentioned at all until a volunteer explicitly asked how they were supposed to calculate and report vote totals. The person leading the training session told the volunteers they didn't need to worry about the math because the iPads would do it for them. Another volunteer reported that they hadn't handled the issued iPads until last Saturday, when they arrived to work at an early voting shift. As a result, the first two hours were "disastrous," with people struggling to get the iPads online. CBS also reports that the party is short hundreds of caucus chairs across the state, and some volunteers are preparing to host multiple caucuses at single sites, which could likely add to confusion and delays.

Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential race is getting more heated. Although Sanders won the popular vote in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Buttigieg took 1 percent more delegates than Sanders did in Iowa. Buttigieg and Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, who placed a surprising third in New Hampshire, are both looking to show they can overtake their more recognizable opponents, while Biden and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren need to show their campaigns aren't dead in the water. All of them are gunning to undermine Sanders, and so they've glommed on to news that a massive Nevada union, Culinary Workers Local 226, has come out against Medicare for All, one of the central planks of Sanders's campaign. Representing more than 60,000 members, more than half of whom are Latino, the union says that it has fought hard for its members' health care plans and universal health care would undermine that.

The Nevada caucus has ample opportunity to go wrong even beyond Saturday's upcoming vote. Unlike Iowa, Nevada will offer early voting for its caucuses, and they'll be offered in multiple languages. But the caucus process will be just as over-complicated as Iowa. The first round is essentially a popular vote count, but any candidates who fail to get at least 15 percent support at a precinct are then stricken from the ballot, and caucus-goers who backed them have to choose a new candidate to support on the second alignment, which is where the candidates get state delegates. The thousands of state delegates then go on to the Nevada State Democratic Convention in May, where they vote to divvy up Nevada's 36 pledged delegates who then go to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this summer.

It wouldn't be completely out of the ordinary either. The 2016 Nevada convention was chaos. In the second alignment, the Sanders campaign managed to flip the equivalent of two national pledged delegates in Clark County, bringing the total to 17 delegates for Sanders and 19 for Hillary Clinton. But at the state convention, the party reportedly refused to admit more than 60 Sanders state delegates (which, confusingly enough, are different from the national delegates the state party sends to the national convention). That gave Clinton's state delegates a slim enough majority to agree to a rules change that ignored the second alignment, delivering those two Clark County national delegates back to Clinton, giving her 21 delegates for the national convention, and Sanders 15. The audience became so incensed that there were unconfirmed reports of chair throwing, and party chair Roberta Lange was later doxxed.

There's a good chance that without a single, clear leader on Saturday, the Nevada caucus will be just as muddled and chaotic as the Iowa ones were. Or as bad as the last time Nevada had caucuses. If only there were some less convoluted process for choosing a nominee that 46 other states already use.

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Originally Appeared on GQ