One of the basic differences between a caucus and a primary is that the latter is simply an opportunity to express individual candidate preferences while the former is (usually) a collaborative process with multiple rounds and secondary preferences. So it’s difficult to have the kind of early-voting options in a caucus that are becoming customary in primary and general elections. In its struggle to accommodate demands for greater accessibility for people who cannot attend one of the traditional fixed-time precinct caucuses, Iowa set up “satellite caucus sites” at unconventional places like nursing homes, workplaces, universities, and even locations overseas.
Nevada, another key caucus state, has been a pioneer in such measures, having set up six caucus sites at Las Vegas Strip hotels and casinos in 2016 for shift workers unable to get to home precincts at the designated times. But this year the state Democratic Party is trying to make four days (February 15–18) available for early caucusing at 82 locations prior to the formal February 22 caucuses. But its efforts are being haunted by the reporting disaster in Iowa on February 3, which is still ongoing, with recanvassing underway. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that procedures for early voting in Nevada are just now being revealed:
The Nevada Democratic Party will use paper ballots to collect presidential preferences during its early voting period, according to a party memo released Tuesday morning.
Early voting runs from Saturday through Feb. 18. The party had originally planned to use an app for the process — the first of its kind for a caucus state. But after a similar app failed miserably in Iowa, the Democrats scrapped it.
That’s no surprise, but more fundamental is how early balloting is being structured to simulate the two-stage preference process of the traditional caucuses, which Nevada shares with Iowa:
[V]oters will check in using a PDF file pre-loaded onto iPads. Voters who are not registered Democrats will be allowed to change their registrations on site.
Voters will then be given a card with a PIN number on it and their Nevada secretary of state ID number, which the memo says “will help connect voters to their home precinct.”
Each participant will then enter the number from their voter cards into a Google Form “as an additional method to track participants and streamline data collection.” Paper sign-in sheets will be available as a backup.
Voters will then select three to five preferences on a paper ballot. They will then insert their ballots and cards into a ballot box at the early voting site. The party says a volunteer will monitor the ballot box.
So, in effect, Nevada will be utilizing ranked-choice voting for those participating before the traditional caucuses occur. Their votes will be sent to their home precincts, with their first and second candidate preferences (or third, fourth, or fifth if earlier preferences aren’t “viable” after the first round) treated as though they were being expressed on-site along with the regular caucusgoers. As in most Iowa precincts, 15 percent is the viability threshold in the Nevada caucuses.
This whole system wasn’t revealed to the campaigns or the public until quite late in the game, and after Iowa, there are obviously going to be fears about such a complicated and volunteer-based process working smoothly. But at least Nevada Democrats won’t be under the illusion that technology has made tabulating and reporting results easy or automatic.
The odds are pretty good that before the next nominating contest both parties (or certainly Democrats) will finally ban party-run caucuses and require state-run primaries for the purpose of selecting delegates. But with luck, Nevada can show that the gap between caucuses and primaries in making life easier for participants isn’t necessarily vast or unbridgeable.