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After Iowa Debacle, Nevada Democrats Will Not Use An App For Their Caucuses

The Iowa Democrats' app contributed to the failure to transmit caucus results.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
The Iowa Democrats' app contributed to the failure to transmit caucus results.

Nevada Democrats are trying to figure out how to avoid the confusion and embarrassment that their fellow Democrats experienced in this week's Iowa caucuses.

Right after a new smartphone app failed miserably to transmit the Iowa results on Monday night, Nevada state Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II issued a statement saying "confidently" that what happened in Iowa would not happen in Nevada on Feb. 22, the date of its party caucuses.

"We will not be employing the same app or vendor used in the Iowa caucus," he said, even though the party had been working with the company behind the Iowa app for months to develop a system for collecting and reporting caucus votes. In fact, the Nevada state party had already paid the developer, Shadow Inc., more than $50,000.

It's unclear what Nevada Democrats will use instead, but a party spokeswoman confirmed to NPR that they will not be using any apps, a decision first reported in The Nevada Independent. Earlier, party officials had said that using an app different from the one developed by Shadow was a possibility.

The party says it's still "evaluating the best path forward," and notes that it had developed some backup plans in the event that its initial app failed. Those backups involved having caucusgoers use paper ballots to record their votes and reporting results over a hotline. In Iowa, however, a backup hotline that precinct chairs tried to use on caucus night was quickly overwhelmed after the app failed.

Coming up with an alternative plan in Nevada is challenging. The state's Democratic caucuses are complicated because they involve four days of early voting at dozens of sites around the state. The initial plan was to have early caucusgoers use electronic tablets to record their votes, which would eventually be transmitted to individual precinct chairs on caucus day using a different app. Those chairs were supposed to use that app to conduct the caucuses and then submit the final results to the party.

Now, that complicated coordination between early votes and hundreds of precincts on caucus day will have to be done without any mobile apps, possibly with just paper and manual counts.

"Those are two really big pieces, with lots of logistics involved, and it's important that people understand what they'll be doing," says David Levine, a former Idaho county election official who is now with the advocacy group Alliance for Securing Democracy.

Whatever process the party chooses, Levine says it's crucial that officials and caucus volunteers get to practice in advance so any problems and vulnerabilities can be identified and fixed before the actual voting begins.

But there's not much time left. Early voting is set to begin on Feb. 15.

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Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
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