Democrats desperately want to avoid another Iowa — that is, another technical snafu that derails a crucial state caucus. And so, with just days to go before the Nevada caucus, Democrats are recruiting volunteers with basic tech skills to sit at major precincts throughout the state and help precinct captains troubleshoot snags as they arise.
It's kind of like teaching your parents how to use their new iPhones at Christmas, only in this case, it's the democratic process at stake.
Over the last week, links to a sign up form have been circulating on Twitter, as well as Democratic mailing lists and Slack channels. It asks for technical volunteers to come to Nevada and "pair up with a Precinct Captain — in real life! — on the day of the caucus."
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The Nevada Democratic Party didn't respond to Protocol's request for comment on this recruiting push. But according to a Democratic source who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the party, the effort was spearheaded by several top Democratic technologists who were alarmed by the Iowa debacle and concerned that the Democratic National Committee, still reeling from the fallout, might not have the bandwidth to prevent a similar catastrophe in Nevada. Those technologists include Raffi Krikorian, former chief technologist of the Democratic National Committee; Osi Imeokparia, former chief product officer for Hillary for America; and Lindsey Schuh Cortes, former CEO of the Democratic data analytics company BlueLabs. They declined Protocol's interview requests.
According to the source, some 50 technical volunteers across the country have signed up to help so far. That's hardly enough to pair a live tech-troubleshooter with every precinct captain in the state, which has approximately 2,000 precincts.
One recruiting message reviewed by Protocol specified that would-be volunteers should be able to, at a minimum, debug simple technology issues, use basic tech tools like PDFs and Google Docs, and communicate via Slack and Signal.
The organizers also tapped into a group called DigiDems, which was founded after the 2016 election specifically to embed technologists in campaigns. A representative from DigiDems confirmed that some of its alumni are volunteering on the ground to support early vote operations in Nevada.
Like the Iowa Democratic Party, the Nevada party had planned to use an app, built by a startup called Shadow, to tabulate and report results. But Nevada party leaders scrapped that plan after watching what happened in Iowa. Last week, the party announced that it would instead use a Google Forms calculator, which would be preloaded on iPads purchased by the party, and could be used only by precinct captains. State party officials said they worked with the DNC and the Department of Homeland Security to develop this new process.
The problem with Shadow's app stemmed from a flaw in the way the app transmitted data to the party's headquarters. That app was hastily built just a few months before the caucus, leaving people both inside and outside of the party to wonder why Iowa would take a gamble on such an untested tool.
Google Forms is certainly not untested. But that doesn't guarantee a smooth caucus night. According to POLITICO, volunteers in Nevada are already reporting rushed training sessions that fail to adequately explain how to use the iPads and Google Forms. That's particularly problematic for older volunteers who are unfamiliar with the technology.
"There were old ladies looking at me like, 'Oh, we're going to have iPads,'" one volunteer told POLITICO. The hope is that having people in the room with even rudimentary tech literacy skills could help bridge that knowledge gap.
Of course, not all of the issues in Iowa had to do with tech. The party's phone lines were also overwhelmed by 4chan trolls urging one another to "clog the lines," after the Iowa Democrats made their phone number public. The Nevada Democrats have reportedly learned from that mistake as well: This time around, only precinct chairs will have access to the reporting hotline.