The Nevada Republican Party announced Friday afternoon that it will release up-to-the minute results of its Feb. 4 caucus via Twitter and Google, enabling anyone to get the latest information without relying on a news site’s election map or the ticker at the bottom of a TV screen.
This is the second time a state party has used a public platform to distribute results as they are counted. It happened earlier this month for the Iowa caucuses, when the Iowa Republican Party worked with Google to tally results, and Google released the rolling counts. The setup in Nevada will be similar.
“We believe it will be the fastest results coming out of a caucus in history,” said James C. Anderson of Cap Public Affairs in a conference call with reporters. “We think we’ve got a tool for this caucus that could be a model for primaries and caucuses for states around the country.”
Starting at 5 p.m. PT, the Nevada GOP will tweet statewide totals from @nvgop, and it will use a second Twitter account to release machine-readable, precinct-level results that developers can access via the Twitter API.
Google will release the results in a table form, similar to what it did for the Iowa caucuses, and it will display the results on a Google Map, which will be posted on the Nevada Republican Party’s website.
The Associated Press has prided itself on being the sole provider of immediate results for every state and national election, and it still is. But now there are two cases — both caucuses, which are run by political parties rather than state elections officials — in which a new publishing platform is upending the old order. The Nevada GOP says it expects the AP to get caucus results via Twitter and Google, although those discussions are ongoing.
The night of the Iowa caucus, news outlets relying on Google’s figures instead of the AP’s were a step ahead in reporting the latest figures. (In a reminder of how confusing it can be to count vote results, that night’s final vote count indicated that Mitt Romney had come out on top, but the party later said Rick Santorum had won.)
The AP used the party’s figures, via Google, but journalists also checked the party’s numbers to see if perhaps a precinct was missing or the results didn’t square with the makeup in a particular area. In a few cases, the AP found discrepancies that led it to hold off on reporting erroneous figures.
AP spokesman Paul Colford reacted to this arrangement with the GOP by issuing a statement that emphasized accuracy:
In this exciting election cycle, we welcome the Nevada GOP’s plan to disseminate the results of its party-run precinct caucuses through Google and Twitter, a platform that the AP and its journalists have long been using in numerous ways to share news quickly. In the absence of voting equipment used in a regular election, the AP has assured its members and subscribers that we will strive to exercise the quality control with the Nevada numbers that is the hallmark of our election services and work with the GOP and Twitter to help ensure the accuracy of the results as we report them.
In Iowa, Google provided the back-end software (Google Apps) to help the party count the votes, and after workers verified the results, they were fed to Google Fusion Tables. As GOP workers in Des Moines entered and verified each precinct’s results on a system set up by Google, the current totals were pushed to a map on Google’s elections page, to the home page of the Republican Party of Iowa, and to precinct and county-level tables accessible by anyone, including the AP.
Google described the effort as an experiment, and it didn’t repeat it for the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries. In both those cases, Google’s maps of county-by-county election results relied on AP figures.
A Google representative said in the conference call that the company wanted to participate in the Nevada caucus because it was a way for the party “to ensure accurate, timely results are released in a useful manner.”
According to Twitter’s Adam Sharp, the Nevada party approached Twitter “and expressed a desire to do something more innovative, more transparent, that would open up access to this real-time information stream. … Twitter has really become the real-time index of the election, so this is just the next logical step.”
Now two state political parties have decided to take this kind of step. But it may be hard to scale this approach. Most voters choose candidates in primary elections, not caucuses, and this approach hasn’t been tried in any of those states. On Election Night in November, anyone trying to aggregate results across the country must deal with the quirks of each state’s process.
That said, a month ago, a news site that wanted to display the latest election results on a map had to decide if it was willing to pay a steep price for AP’s data. Now there are two alternatives, both easily accessible and free.