Democrats’ Iowa caucus produced endless bitterness but no uncontested winner. Here are 10 ways the caucus process went wrong.
- Misapportioned “State Delegate Equivalents”
The formula for determining the number of delegates a candidate receives in Iowa is based upon the number of “state delegate equivalents” received in each precinct. That math is already complicated — quick, calculate the number of people in a voter preference group times the number of delegates to elect, divided by the total number of caucus attendees! — but there were countless obvious examples of errors on caucus night. In Des Moines 14, for instance, the final tallies were 52 for Buttigieg, 50 for Sanders, 31 for Warren, and 25 for Biden. These candidates split 6 delegates: Pete and Warren got 2, Sanders and Biden both got 1. The Warren and Sanders results should have been flip-flopped. In Cedar Township, Sanders got more votes than Klobuchar, yet Klobuchar received delegate equivalents, while Sanders did not. There were errors that hurt and helped most all the candidates, though Sanders was on the wrong end of some of the more egregious ones. An example was Des Moines 80, where Sanders got 101 votes, Buttigieg 66, and Biden 48, but delegates were apportioned 4-4-2 (it should have been 5-3-2).
- Wrong Head Counts
Multiple caucusgoers reported counting heads on their own, only to have precinct chairs come up with, and report, wildly different totals. Joe Grabinski in West Des Moines had issues with both the number of Sanders voters counted and the overall number of caucusgoers. “I counted 308 people, but they said it was 289,” he said. “If that’s off by even one person, it affects the viability calculations.” News organizations like CNN noted that in some cases, the total voters after realignment were higher than the pre-realignment numbers, a mathematical impossibility.
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- Deval Patrick Sweeps Des Moines!
The Iowa Democratic Party Wednesday released a batch of results, bringing the total released to 85%. It showed former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick with 1,768 people voting for him on final alignment. In fact, Patrick earned zero delegate equivalents statewide (Black Hawk County supervisor Chris Schwartz noted, “Deval Patrick definitely had zero voters. Not even just zero delegates, but zero voters in Black Hawk county”). A similar error involved votes that should have gone to Elizabeth Warren, but instead went to Tom Steyer. This was fixed within an hour in what the IDP called a “minor error.”
- Iffy Coin Flips
Flips in Iowa happen when the vote totals make it difficult to evenly apportion delegates – a two-way split in a precinct with five delegates, for instance, would need a flip to give one or the other a 3-2 advantage. However, even the coin flips in Iowa were shady, or least they appeared so on social media videos. If the NFL can do it, why can’t politicians?
- Bad Instructions
There was considerable confusion about a new rule: If you were in a group deemed viable after the first round, you could not move to a different group. These instructions were not followed in every precinct, leading to confusing scenes like this. “This was the first year people were locked in their preference group if it was viable,” said Morgan Baethke, in Indianola. “It was a struggle to get people to understand that.”
- Card Confusion
“Presidential preference cards” were introduced as a safeguard in case a recount was necessary, but caucusers in some districts filled the cards out wrong, almost guaranteeing a mess in a recount.
- App Disaster
The failures of the Shadow technology have been well-documented. The app itself failed, kicking some out after login, while others were unable to log in, and there was a “coding issue” besides. Moreover many precinct chairs waited until the last minute to try to download the technology. The Democratic chair in Poweishek county told the New York Times that seven out of ten of his precinct chairs didn’t download it at all, choosing to phone the results in “as they always had.” Says Grabinski: “Days in advance, there was talk the app wasn’t working.”
- Procedural Confusion
There were controversies over who was allowed to give speeches when, whether or not nonresidents could be precinct captains, and whether groups deemed non-viable on the first round could rally and become viable in the second round. As one caucaser from Boone County put it, “No one seemed to know the rules.”
- Tangled Phone Lines
In a Bababooey style act of ad-libbed listener nihilism, Donald Trump fans flooded the hotline Democrats gave out for caucus officials to phone in results. The number became public after caucus paperwork was posted on social media. The resulting confusion caused further delays.
- Impossible Math
The New York Times found “inconsistencies and other flaws” in over 100 precincts, and the Iowa Democratic Party was reduced to being informed in public of this by the paper, whose Nate Cohn called Iowa “the worst conceived and executed electoral contest I have ever seen.” One of the problems the Times uncovered: precincts reporting more or fewer SDEs than they had available. In Muscatine 9, for instance, only eight SDEs were awarded, when there should have been nine. Because of the closeness of the race, and the high likelihood that there were procedural problems even with the written backup plan (i.e. the Preference Cards), a recount may not clarify anything. As Cohn tweeted, “I find it exceptionally hard to see how a recanvass will fix it all.”