There's an important distinction between "Precinct Chair" and "Precinct Captain" and I have every now and then misstated my job as "Captain," not "Chair." Precinct Captains are partisan positions for people organizing for a specific candidate. Precinct Chairs are the people presiding over their precincts and responsible for reporting the results to the site lead and ultimately the state party. I was a Chair, not a Captain. In order to preserve impartiality, I voted earlier this week in the advance voting using an instant-runoff ballot.
After my experience four years ago, I volunteered to help with the 2020 caucus because I was not all that pleased with the organization of the event. I don't mean the results — I mean the logistics and management of the event. After participating in initial online "Caucus 101" training and subsequent in-person training, I applied for the Temporary Precinct Chair appointment for Precinct 40, which is where I live in Fernley. (Lyon County is divided into forty precincts, of which mine is the northernmost.)
The Party designates a Temporary Precinct Chair for each precinct. Each precinct is a politically autonomous small assembly, and it can elect its own chair should it choose to do so. In practice, most precincts tend to elect the TPC as Permanent Chair, because the TPCs are generally the ones to have had the training and because it's rare that anyone else wants to do the work, which is substantial.
According to the instructions we received, TPCs were asked to arrive at East Valley Elementary School by 8 AM, with the Site Lead (in charge of overall organization) arriving at 7:30. I therefore arrived about 7:45. To my surprise, I was the first person there except for the custodian at the school who had opened the building and was wondering where the organizers were. I later learned that there was a big traffic accident in Reno/Sparks on eastbound I-80, and therefore our site lead, who was responsible for transporting the caucus materials from the party headquarters near Reno Airport, had gotten stuck in traffic.
Other TPCs began to filter in along with a few other volunteers as well as precinct captains (see my note above) and other partisan organizers, and we took it upon ourselves to start doing some basic physical arrangement of the school's multi-purpose room prior to the site lead's arrival. The custodian showed us where the racks of folding chairs were and she told us we could roll the racks in to the hall, which we did. We unloaded two full racks and put a third rack on standby. We weren't sure how many people would be here compared to four years ago. While interest in the caucus is much higher this time, especially with so many remaining candidates still in the race, the introduction of early voting was a wild card.
With not enough volunteers, precinct chairs like me were pressed into service checking in people. We had one list of registered voters in our area alphabetically arranged by last name. We split it between M and N and I took the back half of the list while one of the other PCs took the first half. With a breeze blowing through the open door, papers started rustling and we scrambled for paperweights. Spot the sounder for my gavel as one of them.
We did get things arranged sufficiently to open on time (10 AM) and were eventually able to clear the initial queue. This photo is from later during a lull. With fewer people caucusing in person due to early voting, we mostly could keep up with the newcomers. Complicating things were those people who were not on the voter rolls. Sometimes they had their voter registration cards, and in those cases we could move them through quickly. Others needed to fill out new voter registrations. At my suggestion, we had set up a different table off to the side with chairs where people could fill out new-voter registrations. In one case, I helped a man who was legally blind prepare his.
We had a few people who had come to the wrong site. Fernley has about fourteen precincts, but only seven vote at our site. Some people came to our site when they should have gone to Fernley Intermediate School. Fortunately, the last one of those people was more than 30 minutes before the cut-off to sign in, so they had time to get over to FIS.
The Site Lead put me in charge of "capping" the line at Noon. Anyone in line at Noon could still vote, but nobody thereafter. Unlike four years ago, we didn't have a queue out the door at Noon. There were only three or four people waiting. As I went outside at 11:59, there was one person who had just parked and who was trying to run for the door. I called out to her, "Don't panic! I'll count you as 'in line.'" We got her inside and closed the door. While signing in the last arrivals, a few people showed up and were given the bad news that they were too late and could observe but couldn't vote.
Earlier, I had set up the KumaPower™ extension that Lisa built to help the site lead. There were a bunch of iPads that needed charging. Between what I had and the other outlets he could find, (plus the double-port charger I had with me), we were able to get the iPads charged sufficiently to do the caucus.
When I had a chance and once we got some other volunteers to take over at the Registration desk, I could get my own precinct paperwork organized, including my iPad. Each precinct had its own sign-in and password, but everthing we would be getting from the iPad or entering into it was replicated in paper form, including even the results of the early preferential voting. That is not the Gavel of WSFS, by the way. That's the gavel that Lisa gave me as a present at the Helsinki WSFS business meeting, and it is engraved "Kevin Standlee, Chairman, WSFS." It's the first time I've had a chance to actually use it!
The people in the foreground are the attendees for Precinct 40, waiting for the last registrants and for the precinct chairs to get our final briefings so we could get started. Because we were short-staffed and due to the late set-up, we didn't really get going until about 12:15 or so.
After completing check-in and precinct chair briefing, the Site Lead got everyone's attention, thanked everyone for their patience and for coming, and started reading letters from senior Nevada elected officals, starting with governor Steve Sisolak. After he finished, I offered to read the letter from Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto. Our site lead read the letter from Senator Jackie Rosen (he works for her office), and the other PCs read letters from Nevada's three Democratic members of Congress.
With the pep rally portion done, the Precinct Chairs went to our precincts and called them individually to order. I banged my gavel, introduced myself, and started reading from the scripts provided to us by the Nevada Democratic Party. Rather than go through the process of ayes and nays for what is generally a routine item, I asked if there was any objection to me serving as Permanent Chair. There was none. I asked for and recieved a volunteer to act as Precinct Secretary. I'm grateful for her help, because while she wrote the results of intermediate counts, I had to either enter them into the iPad or read off the results we got from the iPad.
The way the caucus works is that initially everyone in the caucus forms an "initial alignment" of their most-preferred candidate. After the first round, only "viable" candidates survive. Viability depends on the size of the precinct. Our precinct was to elect five delegates to the county convention in April, and thus viablity meant you had to poll at least 15% of the total votes cast, including early votes.
After entering the in-person voters on the paper sheet and the iPad, I used the iPad to retrieve the results of the advance voting. Had the iPad malfunctioned, we also had the advance voting results on paper, but all seven iPads worked as advertised. There were a total of 29 people (in person and advance) voting in our precinct (about a 15% turnout, I think), and thus viability was 29 * 0.15 = 4.35, with all fractions rounded up, and thus viability required at least 5 votes.
At the end of the first round, and including the advance votes, the only viable candidates were Amy Klobuchar (5 votes) and Bernie Sanders (11 votes). There were only four people in person who were in non-viable groups. I collected the voter cards from the viable groups, because voters for viable candidates aren't allowed to change groups. Representatives from the two viable groups spoke for one minute each about why people should realign with them. None of the other groups made a speech, although they could have done so. It was at least possible that the four remaining voters, had they clubbed together for a single candidate, would have picked up a subsequent preference from the advance voters. We were not to retrieve advance voters' subsequent preferences yet.
In the end, three of the four non-viable voters went over to Klobuchar or Sanders. One decided to stick with Biden in the hope that they'd pick up at least one more subsequent preference, as Biden had 3 advance votes as well. I keyed in those numbers and triggered the redistribution of advance votes for non-viable candidates.
Somewhat to my surprise, the redistribution of preferences led to Klobuchar and Sanders having 13 votes each, with one "stranded" vote for Biden not counting at all. There were only 27 votes left at this point (including the "stranded" Biden vote) because two of the advance voters exhausted their ballots by not marking any remaining viable candidate. I collected the rest of the voter preference cards. (The "second alignment" is on the back of the card, and the four people who initially didn't make a viable group filled out the back of their cards for the "second alignment.") That ended the voting for presidential candidates, but we still needed to elect delegates.
This caucus was really only the first step on the road to the national convention. The next step is the Lyon County Democratic Party convention to be held in April. Our precinct was allocated five delegates and three alternates to the county convention. But with Klobuchar and Sanders tied, we had an "odd" delegate. Two delegates would go to both candidates for certain, but we needed to allocate the odd fifth delegate.
By party rules, when there is an exact tie, the odd delegate is selected by random draw from a deck of cards, with a tie in card rank broken by the standard bridge rank of suits (spades high, hearts, diamonds, clubs low). Sealed decks of cards were provided by the party. I retrieved one, unsealed it in the presence of the caucus, pulled out the jokers and instruction cards, then shuffled the deck seven times. In this picture, I'm about to have representatives of both candidates' preference groups pull one card from the deck. The draw was Klobuchar: King of Hearts, Sanders: 2 of Spades. The odd delgate thus went to Klobuchar.
We were still not done, but we needed to finish, because we were losing participants fast. I explained that the people present needed to elect three Klobuchar and two Sanders delegates to the county convention, and that if anyone has the ambition of maybe going to the national convention, you have to go to the county and then get yourself elected to the state convention first.
(Note that I'm carrying my gavel in the holster that Lisa gave me to go with the gavel when she presented it to me at Helsinki. It's a good thing I didn't absent-mindedly sit down, becuase there's a chance the handle could have snapped off!)
Inasmuch as my first choice (cast in advance) had been eliminated, I deferred to the remaining Klobuchar and Sanders voters, and they quickly worked out the 3/2 split and filled out the necessary paperwork. Although our precinct was entitled to three alternates, nobody left wanted to be an alternate, and without objection, I was elected to be one.
Everyone wanted to leave at that point, so there were no resolutions, and the Precinct 40 caucus adjorned.
Our precinct Secretary transcribed the information from the big poster to a smaller sheet of paper. I compared it to the poster and the calculations on the iPad, confirmed it to be correct, and signed off on it, as did she. Then a representative of the two groups that had earned delegates also signed the paper form. Now it was all over but the cleanup and the reporting.
While doing the final steps on the iPad, I was supposed to enter the tie-breaking information. It was initially very worrying that when I indicated that Klobuchar gained a delegate and Sanders did not change, the form said there was something missing. One other precinct had a similar tie, and she had the same result. I decided to go on to the next (final) page anyway, and it counted it correctly. There may have been a minor bug in the form, or else both of us might have misunderstood how to enter the tie-breaker, but again, the iPads weren't used for reporting results, just counting them, and we could see that the results were correct.
I and the other precinct chairs started cleaning up our paperwork, putting forms in the correct envelopes, and tidying up generally. We asked those people who hadn't immediately run for the exits as soon as final alignments had been reached to help fold and store chairs and tables, take down signs, and clean up the room.
We invited anyone who wanted to do so to take pictures of the posters and final precinct counts. I was so busy that I did not get a picture of any other precinct but our neighboring 39.
The base instructions said that the precinct chairs were supposed to both phone in and e-mail pictures of our precincts to party HQ, but the site lead offered to do all of them, so we brought all seven sets of paperwork to him, he reviewed it, took the pictures, sent the e-mails, made the calls, and would later after we finsished cleaning up transport the original documents including the voter cards back to party headquarters in Reno.
During this time I had to divert from my main task of clean-up (mostly done anyway) to help one of our precinct's voters, who was experiencing both physical (from too much standing) and emotional (from having her first preference get elimintated) pain. I retrieved a chair from one of the racks and sat with her while she poured out her frustration. I also loaned her my phone so she could call her son to come get her. When she felt able to walk again, I helped her outside, with her holding my right arm while I carried a chair in my left as we went out to the curb. I set the chair up for her and continued to stay with her and listen to her until her son came. (Besides just being a good person, this sort of thing is part of what we should live when we say we want to hold an accessible and inclusive caucus respectful of all of our members.) I of course returned the chair. I do wish I'd been able to go grab my Jacaru hat, as it was surprisingly sunny and I got even redder than usual, especially on the top of my head.
After helping the site lead move boxes to his car, we made one final pass through the room, where I took down a couple of stray signs we'd left behind. Note to self: if I do this again, bring a roll of blue tape, as the masking tape supplied by the party was poor quality and hard to use and you shouldn't use ordinary masking tape on the painted surfaces anyway. One final task: I helped the custodian reset some of the tables to the way they will be used on Monday morning so that she could finish her work and go home.
And then we really were done, about 3 PM. Not counting the custodian who unlocked and locked the building, I ended up being the first person in and the last person out. That does remind me of a number of fannish functions on which I've volunteered.
This caucus did go much more smoothly than the one four years ago, and I think the advance voting made a big difference. The "caucus calculator" on the iPads worked, and it made the counting easier, and we never had to go to the backup plans, but I'm still glad that it wasn't the only way we could have done the election. It still could have gone better. Even though it means I'd have to be up even earlier to make two trips back and forth to Reno, I'm tempted to volunteer to be a site lead. Having seen how it works, it doesn't seem any more complicated than a lot of the conventions on which I have worked.
I'm tired from the long day, but I'm very satisfied with the results organizationally, even if my first choice candidate did not make the cut in my precinct. I'm glad that I was able to lend my organizational skills to it, and I got a lot of thanks from many people including the site lead, my fellow PCs, and lots of the voters. Go Precinct 40!