LAS VEGAS — One day before the Nevada caucuses, the state Democratic Party has asked all caucus site leaders to sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing them from talking to the news media. State party officials began to present the agreements to site leaders Friday.
Nevada State Democratic Party officials said it was standard procedure to make such requests, because paid and volunteer caucus site leaders are often given information about the party’s strategy and methodology. The existence of the agreement was first reported by CNN on Friday.
The agreement specifically bars volunteers and staff members working the caucuses from talking to the news media, even if they are unnamed.
“If I am a volunteer and answering phones at the NSDP office or volunteering at an official NSDP event, I am a representative of the NSDP and am not authorized to speak to the press unless given permission by the executive director or communications director,” the agreement says.
It goes on to specify in all caps that “THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS.”
On another front, Nevada Democrats, in a move to bolster the upcoming presidential caucuses and avoid Iowa-style chaos, said Friday that they would not rely on a Google form for reporting results and would instead use a traditional phone-based system — the way results had been reported for decades in caucus states.
Precinct leaders will report results from Saturday’s caucuses to the state party through a dedicated phone hotline and by text message, rather than relying on a Google application intended to help volunteers and officials calculate delegates, according to a memo the state party circulated to the presidential campaigns.
The memo, from Alana Mounce, the state party’s executive director, made no mention of the Google Forms tool that volunteers have been instructed to use to calculate and input results. Instead it informed the campaigns to expect caucus results to be transmitted through the state party’s telephone hotline by precinct leaders reading from caucus work sheets they have completed by hand.
“The hotline report will be the primary source of the precinct caucus results reported on Caucus Day,” Mounce wrote.
The move to a phone-based reporting system follows widespread concern about the caucus process after a meltdown in Iowa earlier this month. But even relying on a phone hotline is not foolproof: In Iowa, some caucus chairs waited on hold for hours while trying to report results, and operators were flooded with nuisance calls after the phone number was leaked online.
The 2020 caucus process is far more complex than it has been before; Democratic National Committee rules put in place for this presidential cycle require reporting two sets of raw vote totals for each candidate in addition to the delegate figures, and Nevadans were able to cast their ballots early for the first time.
A Nevada Democratic official said the party and its volunteer precinct leaders would still use the Google application to calculate results and commingle early-vote and in-person caucus totals. But the results the party plans to publicly report Saturday, the official said, will come from the numbers sent by phone and text message from the state’s 2,097 precincts.
“After their precinct caucuses conclude, the precinct chairs will call a hotline to securely report their results to a trained operator, will submit via text a photo of their caucus reporting sheet to state party staff through an established MMS reporting hub, and then they will return their caucus reporting sheet and other materials to their Site Lead,” Mounce wrote.
Nevada Democratic officials had long planned to report caucus results via a smartphone app build by Shadow Inc. but abandoned those plans when Shadow was part of the high-profile chaos in Iowa that led to days of delays before full results were known.
The state party then announced it would report results through the Google Forms tool. Technology experts from Google, the Democratic National Committee and DigiDems, the incubator of technology talent for Democratic campaigns, are in Las Vegas to help support the Nevada caucuses.
Over the past week the state party has held several training sessions for volunteers who are overseeing the caucuses. The precinct leaders have been told how to use and operate iPads and given instructions on how to tabulate and enter their caucus results into the Google Forms application.
The state party’s memo does not stipulate what time to expect public reporting of caucus results. Democratic officials in Nevada, scarred by the experience in Iowa, have been quietly playing down expectations about how long it will take to know who won the state.
“The Caucus Day results will be posted on a public reporting website hosted by NV Dems with periodic updates,” Mounce wrote.
Among the biggest challenges for state party officials is tabulating results from nearly 75,000 ballots cast during the four-day early voting period and transmitting them to state party-owned iPads that will be used by volunteer precinct leaders.
The precinct leaders will then be responsible for combining the early-vote data with preferences of in-person participants Saturday to determine which candidates meet viability thresholds to win delegates.
Viability thresholds vary by precinct, but most are about 15%.
One variable that is not known is how many people will show up to caucus in person Saturday. About 118,000 Democrats participated in the 2008 Nevada caucuses, a number that dropped to 84,000 in 2016.
With so many ballots already cast early, a relatively low in-person caucus turnout could allow the day to run relatively smoothly. A large caucus day turnout would make everything take longer Saturday.
In Iowa, the caucuses were marred by mathematical errors from precinct leaders overwhelmed by the amount of data they were required to document.
In Nevada, the results reported Saturday will reflect what is recorded on the caucus work sheets precinct leaders are to fill out. If the math is wrong, Mounce wrote, the state party will address it in subsequent days.
“If there are any math questions or other issues on caucus reporting sheets, they will be addressed subsequent to caucus day,” she wrote.