Nevada Democrats head to their precincts Saturday under nationwide scrutiny to participate in the second presidential contest this year using a caucus system.
After issues with an app and a communications breakdown led to a meltdown during the Iowa caucuses earlier this month, the Silver State is determined to run and report results properly from its own contests across more than 1,700 precincts.
The tight delegate race between former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders -- still being contested by both campaigns in the Hawkeye State -- and intense national focus for a fair and accurate outcome have compounded the need for a smooth day.
Similar to Iowa, Nevada will report three numbers on Saturday, including the "county delegates" who are used to determine the national delegate outcome.
CNN will project the winner of the Nevada caucuses based on who wins the most county delegates.
To win the Democratic presidential nomination on the first ballot during the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in July, a candidate needs 1,991 pledged delegate votes. Nevada has 36 up for grabs Saturday. Though that's only about 1% of the delegates up for grabs, the momentum a candidate can gain from showing strength in a state with a diverse population, strong union representation and Western location can change the direction of the race.
How to win in Nevada and beyond
A new rule by the Democratic National Committee mandates that all delegates elected to the national convention reflect the vote of the first determining step of the process -- the precinct caucuses. This simplified process will make calculating the delegates, and therefore determining the winner, easier.
The Nevada State Democratic Party will release the county delegate results of the precinct caucuses for each candidate. The national delegate number will reflect those results. As in previous cycles, CNN will determine the winner by the candidate who receives the most county delegates.
Though the release of these votes could show one candidate winning the most actual votes and another winning the most delegates, CNN will continue to use the candidate with the most delegates as the standard, as it will reflect the most votes at the national convention.
For the first time, the state party will also release the results of the first and final preference votes (more on that below) alongside the county delegates, but like the popular vote's relation to the Electoral College, the delegates will ultimately reflect who's in the top spot.
How to caucus
At noon PT (3 p.m. ET), Nevadans will begin to caucus. Voters in the room will group with other participants supporting their first choice for president.
If their first choice isn't viable -- meaning the candidate reaches a certain threshold of support, usually around 15% of the vote -- voters will be given an opportunity to realign with viable candidates or to form a viable group with other voters whose top choice wasn't viable.
All viability and allocation math will be done with a "caucus calculator" developed by the state party. The calculator is a Google form that can incorporate the early vote with in-person participants, determine the viability threshold and calculate delegates for each qualifying candidate.
The results will be reported through a secure, multi-step process developed in the wake of the Iowa caucuses. The DNC and Department of Homeland Security were among those consulted about the calculator and its security.
The state party originally planned to use an app developed by the same company that created the Iowa app, but it was quickly discarded after the caucuses and replaced with the calculator being used on party-bought iPads.
Caucuses previously required voters to participate at singular times and locations. As part of the DNC's post-2016 revisions, states holding caucuses are required to provide a way to participate outside the one designated time and place.
This year, Nevada instituted early voting for Democrats looking to caucus outside their assigned time and place. Early voting took place from last Saturday through Tuesday. During that time, voters' ballots ranked their top three to five choices for president.
The state party reports that nearly 75,000 people participated in early voting, more than half of whom were first-time caucusgoers.
The rankings by the early voters will be used at the precincts on Saturday to determine the threshold a candidate needs to meet to earn delegates. An early voter's other options will be incorporated after the physical realignment in the room to help determine the amount of county delegates awarded from each precinct.
Who participates in the caucuses?
Nevada's caucuses are open to registered Nevada voters. A voter must be at least 18 years old on November 3, 2020, to participate.
Though the party requires everyone to be a registered Democrat, voters can register at their precinct locations before the vote.
Delegates: Who they are and how to become one
The precinct caucuses will elect county delegates to county conventions. There, district delegates will be elected to the state convention, which will then go on to select the national delegates.
Delegates are voters from each locality who represent their presidential candidates of choice. Any voter can run for a delegate slot, but eventually they will have to be approved by the campaigns of the candidates they are representing to ensure voters' picks are reflected through Milwaukee.
"Pledged delegates" are pledged on the first ballot of the national convention only -- technically, they can change their votes, but given that campaigns approve them, it is unusual for that to occur. If the convention goes to a second ballot, they are no longer obligated to vote for any specific candidates.
Recounts are required to be available to candidates if they can demonstrate that a change in the results could alter the national delegate allocation. Requests for either must be received by the state party by 5 p.m. PT Monday.
What happens next
South Carolina votes a week after Nevada, on February 29. The coveted "First in the South" primary will be the last one-state competition before Super Tuesday on March 3.
About one-third of the pledged delegates are at stake on Super Tuesday. The momentum gained from Nevada and South Carolina over the next week can have a significant impact on who wins the Democratic nomination.