Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2019

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Nevada Politics:

Democrats have rolled out a virtual caucus for 2020. Here’s how it’s supposed to work.

Caucus at Rancho High

Voters listen while a letter supporting Bernie Sanders is read during the 2016 Nevada Democratic presidential caucus at Rancho High School on Saturday, February 20, 2016. In 2020, registered Nevada Democrats will have the option of participating in a telecaucus instead of physically attending at their caucus site.

Nevada Democratic Party officials think they have the solution to boosting participation in next year’s presidential caucuses, and it’s as easy as phoning it in.

The officials in May unveiled their idea to allow registered Nevada Democrats the option of virtual participation if they can’t make it to sites on the day of the caucuses, Feb. 22, 2020. Party officials recently talked about the details of the telephone-based virtual caucuses.

Molly Forgey, the communications director for the state Democratic Party, said that while participation on caucus day was still important, the addition of a virtual option was meant to allow the largest number of people possible to participate. “We don’t want to limit this in any way,” she said.

Caucuses differ from primaries in that party rules have required voters show up at the caucus locations and spend part of their day participating in discussions about opposing candidates. In 2016, Nevada’s Democratic presidential caucuses began at noon, though lines at caucus sites formed well before that. A little after 2 p.m., as most caucusgoers were heading home, the Associated Press called the race with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the winner.

Caucuses historically have produced lower voter turnout than primaries, and in past remarks Shelby Wiltz, the caucus director for the Nevada Democrats, said that a virtual option could increase turnout for those who cannot spend time caucusing at the physical caucus location, such as members of the military, travelers or disabled people. Nevada party officials proposed the changes after the Democratic National Convention after the 2016 presidential primary season called on states to increase accessibility during caucuses, up to and including online voting.

How will the virtual caucus work?

Virtual caucusing in Nevada — and Iowa, another state that will be using a similar program — will be done by phone or online communications apps Skype and Google Hangouts. These apps have a phone call option, which will be used instead of the video call.

The decision to conduct the telecaucus, Nevada Democratic Party Executive Director Alana Mounce said, was made to ensure all registered Democrats in Nevada had the ability to participate.

The caucus-by-phone option may appeal to those in rural areas where internet access can be dismal and travel to a caucus site can be formidable. “We wanted a caucus that every Nevadan can use,” Mounce said.

To participate, voters must have registered as a Democrat in Nevada by Nov. 30. From 9 a.m. Jan. 1, 2020, to 5 p.m. Jan. 15, 2020, registered Democrats can sign up to participate in the virtual caucus. Those who register for the virtual caucus will receive a unique login credential and a number to call to participate.

The virtual caucuses will take place Feb. 16-17, 2020. On those dates, participants can call in on their phone or computer, present their credentials and select their candidates either verbally or by entering their selections in the keypad. The virtual caucus will have three language options: English, Spanish and Tagalog.

Participants will be able to select a list of preferences — for example, former Vice President Joe Biden for their first choice, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., for their second choice and so on. The number of choices virtual participants will have is not set as of now, Forgey said, but the party hopes it will be soon.

At the end of the call, participants confirm their preferences, and the voter’s responsibility is done.

The Nevada Democratic Party will staff a hotline to address any issues with the virtual caucus — such as, for example, the call dropping in the middle of the process.

What then?

Votes cast in the virtual caucus will be counted at individual voter’s precinct location. Caucus precincts are identical to regular voting precincts.

The Nevada Democratic Party will track callers’ location to determine in which precinct their vote should be counted.

The party will release raw alignment totals — the total votes for candidates at the end of Caucus Day — after all of the caucuses are concluded and, for the first time, will have a Democratic National Committee-required mechanism in place to hold a recount.

What about security?

Forgey said the virtual caucus process would undergo testing with input from the DNC’s tech team and other outside security experts before the Nevada caucuses.

Multifactor authentication will be required before the party gives out the unique credentials to voters. What form that will ultimately take, Forgey said, is currently being worked out — possibilities she mentioned were Social Security numbers or other ID numbers. Regardless, Nevada Democrats will have to provide proof of who they are before a credential is given out, party officials said.

As of now, when actually entering their selections during the virtual caucus, voters will only need their login credentials.