Nevada Democrats are rebuffing a request from Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign to hold off on releasing final numbers from Saturday’s caucuses until the party rectifies a series of errors the campaign claims it has discovered in the processing of materials and tabulation of results.
At issue is the way the state party combined preferences from four days of early voting with caucus-day support – an intricate process that caused tensions between the state party and the presidential campaigns in the days leading up to the caucuses.
Even as officials brushed off the campaign’s request, it remained uncertain how quickly Nevada Democrats would be able verify and publish results, while avoiding the protracted uncertainty that plagued their counterparts in Iowa after a software glitch snarled the first-in-the-nation contest, causing a severe delay in the release of error-laced figures, which are still in question.
In a letter on Saturday night, Michael Gaffney, the Buttigieg campaign’s national ballot access and delegates director, asked the state party to release separate early-vote and in-person totals for each precinct; to correct any errors arising from the integration of early votes; and to “explain anomalies in the data.”
“Given how close the race is between second and third place, we ask that you take these steps before releasing any final data,” Gaffney wrote to the party’s chairman, William McCurdy.
But Molly Forgey, a spokeswoman for the state party, said Democratic officials would continue to verify and report results, about half of which had been published on the state party’s website by Sunday morning, almost 24 hours after the caucuses got underway.
“We never indicated we would release a separate breakdown of early vote and in-person attendees by precinct and will not change our reporting process now,” Forgey said in a statement, adding that any campaign wishing to query the results would have to do so through a formal method laid out in the party’s “recount guidance.”
The letter from Gaffney alleged a slew of problems, including “200 incident reports” from across the state. By his account, they ranged from early-vote data not being delivered or being delayed to the data figuring improperly in caucus-day calculations to the data being allocated to the wrong candidate. “In at least one location, early vote data from the wrong precinct was used,” he wrote.
Forgey declined to say whether the campaign’s claims had merit, affirming only that, “We are continuing to verify and to report results.”
The state party had released figures from just under half of the roughly 2,000 precincts late Saturday when the letter arrived from Gaffney, asking for a response by 6 a.m. Pacific time Sunday.
The release of additional numbers was sluggish, with data from 1,266 precincts reported by Sunday morning. Meanwhile, questions were already emerging about why numbers for some precincts were initially revealed and then removed from the state party’s website.
Preliminary results showed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with a thumping victory – enough for The Associated Press to name him the winner Saturday evening – followed by former vice president Joe Biden. The numbers put the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in third place, right at the 15% threshold required to take delegates from the state to the national convention.
But Hari Sevugan, Buttigieg’s deputy campaign manager, suggested that portrait of support in the Silver State was incomplete. The campaign’s internal numbers, he said in a statement, showed a “razor-thin margin for second place in Nevada.”
Even before the caucuses began, the state party had moved to preempt questions about possible mathematical irregularities in the results, which were rampant in Iowa.
In a memo released Friday, the state party’s executive director, Alana Mounce, said numbers released by the party would reflect the information on reporting sheets completed at precincts across the state.
“If there are any math questions or other issues on caucus reporting sheets, they will be addressed subsequent to caucus day according to our established results review procedures,” she wrote.
The memo arrived as campaigns were still waiting on data from the final day of early voting.
The quest to match ranked-choice preferences completed ahead of time with the precincts where those preferences would ultimately count on caucus day had proven to be arduous. And it brought the state party into conflict with the campaigns.
Especially vexed was the process of voiding ballots, mostly because they lacked signatures, in a review process conducted by three people appointed by the state party. Campaign representatives were invited to observe what was dubbed “caucus court,” according to multiple people familiar with the procedure.
The campaigns had been promised data from early voting, in which nearly 75,000 Nevadans participated at roughly 80 sites across the state, but they didn’t receive names from the final day until Saturday morning. That left little time to coax Democrats whose ballots had been voided – about 2.3 percent of the total who voted early – to turn out to caucus.
The uncertainty on the eve of the caucuses followed days of escalating tensions, which flared as the Nevada Democrats revamped their system for transmitting and verifying results following the debacle in Iowa.
Campaign operatives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid crossing the party, described hastily arranged conference calls and last-minute notices about voting procedures, including the requirement of signatures on early ballots.
As Nevadans headed to caucus on Saturday, at least one campaign was still raising concerns about how the early vote would be integrated into the in-person caucuses. One adviser said several campaigns had pressed the state party to issue written guidance more clearly outlining how the early count would be characterized to in-person caucus-goers, but that the party declined.
The aide raised the issue of optics, pointing to how some Democrats were known to make last-minute decisions inside the room based on the size of a crowd behind a particular candidate.
The fear was realized in certain precincts on Saturday, as caucus-goers stuck in their corner hoping more support from early vote would materialize, only to find out after the fact that they would come up short. One group of Buttigieg supporters inside Thurman White Academy in Henderson took a gamble, hoping the iPad would spit out better numbers for them on the final alignment. It did not.
“They are still assembling the plane as it is trying to take off,” the campaign aide warned.
Privately, people close to the state party groused that campaigns were endeavoring to sow doubt about the results ahead of time in order to explain away a poor showing. About eight in 10 caucus-goers said they were confident that preferences in Saturday’s caucuses would be counted correctly, according to preliminary entrance poll results, while just under 2 in 10 said they were not confident.
“I think the party here is doing everything it can to try to make sure this is a totally legitimate count, but caucuses are hard – it’s really hard,” Biden told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Asked whether caucuses should be abandoned, he said, “that’s the judgment the American people are going to make.”