‘Inconsistencies’ in Iowa

What happened at the Iowa Democratic Caucuses, and what will result?

By Alex Hentschel

As night fell on Monday, February 3, instead of revealing the Democratic Party’s first frontrunner in the 2020 election, the Iowa Democratic Caucuses belied only utter turmoil and mismanagement. Results were delayed indefinitely due to “inconsistencies.”

Mayor Pete Buttigeig gave a victory speech without knowing the vote count; the Bernie Sanders campaign released independently gathered numbers revealing him as the frontrunner; Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign released a statement calling the caucus an “acute failure;” Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s speech said the race was “too close to call;” the other candidates capitalized on the state of uncertainty, unwilling to give concession speeches. The cause of the dysfunction may have been a quickly built and poorly tested app designed to collect votes.

Typically, the winner of the Iowa Democratic caucus goes on to win the party’s nomination; this was why it was so critical for the campaigns that they knew who had won, so that they could ride that momentum into the New Hampshire primary the following Tuesday. None of the candidates received a complete result, and many criticized Buttigeig for announcing a victory when preliminary vote totals put Sanders ahead. In addition, many campaigns funneled millions into the caucus; their campaign dollars were essentially wasted on a vote so marred with issues that there was no clear victor.

Why was it so difficult to determine a winner? The differences between a caucus and a primary shed some light on this dysfunction. At a caucus, which is a system dating back to the mid-1700s, registered party members gather and discuss their nomination options. In Iowa, voters attempt to persuade each other to switch to different candidates. Only 10 states still maintain a caucus system; the rest have primaries, where registered voters cast their ballot privately for their preferred candidate.

While the primary system is quick and efficient, with only one vote tally, the Iowa Democratic Party recorded three different votes at this year’s caucus. First, they took a beginning tally of how many constituents preferred each candidate when they first arrived; second, they took the final tally of votes after candidates who received less than 15% of the vote were removed from consideration as “nonviable;” third, they evaluated state delegate equivalents, which determined how many delegates each candidate will receive at the Iowa state convention based on the final tally.

Previously, only the third result was revealed to the public — the state delegate equivalencies. The Iowa Democratic Party hoped to improve transparency. However, this did complicate results — after all, if one candidate received more votes but less delegates, who would be the true “winner?”

Many voters complained that in the last Iowa caucus, Hillary Clinton received more state delegates than Bernie Sanders, but it was not recorded what percentage of the vote each received, leading to confusion and mixed messaging from the campaigns over who actually received more votes.

This well-intentioned idea resulted in utter chaos as voters were unsure of the new rules of procedure, and users were unable to use the app, which crashed frequently; in addition, according to the New York Times, many precinct chairs opted to record votes over the phone instead as in past years, but the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters was unprepared to field so many calls. Some precinct chairs even tried to hand-deliver the results to the party headquarters, leading to a different system of vote collection at each of the 1,681 precincts.

The Iowa Democratic Party maintained that the app had not been hacked, but rather that the different vote recording systems had created difficulties. In an official statement released Tuesday, they stated: “As part of our investigation, we determined with certainty that the underlying data collected via the app was sound. While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data. This issue was identified and fixed.”

Despite that, conspiracy theories abound, with President Trump tweeting that the election was being stolen from Bernie Sanders: “[Mike Bloomberg is] getting the DNC to rig the election against Crazy Bernie, something they wouldn’t do for @CoryBooker and others. They are doing it to Bernie again, 2016.”

There are several questions about the app, run by a company called Shadow, Inc., whose stated mission is to produce technology for progressive causes. The Iowa Democratic Party paid Shadow to develop the app, but it was developed over a short period of two months and not tested extensively. In addition, the Nevada Democratic Party has planned to use the same company for its primary.

Even more interestingly, the Democratic establishment has several links to Shadow. The company employs former Hillary Clinton campaign staffers. According to the Federal Election Commission, Mayor Pete Buttigeig has employed Shadow for various services over the past several months, and so have Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, raising questions of potential conspiracy or involvement in the election results, though nothing is confirmed.

The New Hampshire primary was again a tight race between Buttigeig and Sanders, but Sanders ultimately won the victory, Tweeting: “Our victory tonight is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump.” Sanders is fighting an uphill battle against the establishment through a grassroots-funded campaign.

As of this writing, it is yet to be seen how this will affect the race overall; a splintered or disappointed Democratic party is exactly what incumbent President Donald Trump views as a key to victory in 2020.

Alex Hentschel is a senior International Studies and Spanish double major and the off-campus news editor for Cedars. She enjoys sociology, black coffee, and honest debate, preferably all at once.

No Replies to "‘Inconsistencies’ in Iowa"