A potentially crippling night for Iowa caucuses?
The Iowa caucuses have held outsized influence on presidential elections for decades, owing to the fact they’re the first event on the nominating calendar. Candidates spend months courting voters, hoping a victory — or, in some cases, a surprisingly strong showing — will launch them to the nomination.
Monday’s event could change that. The inability to promptly tally votes from the Democratic caucuses left the party’s candidates seething, understandably so, even as they told their supporters how well they had performed.
The caucuses’ arcane rules are confusing enough. Monday, trouble with a reporting app turned the Democratic caucuses on their head. The app was to be used by precinct captains to help them calculate which candidates were viable, but problems cropped up early on.
The spokeswoman for the Iowa Democratic Party said inconsistencies were found in reporting of three sets of results. “In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all the results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report,” she said.
She insisted the app didn’t fail and wasn’t hacked, but instead was “simply a reporting issue.”
The next day, the party blamed a “coding issue” in the app but said it “did not impact the ability of precinct chairs to report data accurately.”
Candidates headed to New Hampshire, whose primary is Tuesday, without knowing where they had finished in Iowa and with a shared disgust over what had transpired. Joe Biden’s campaign complained about “considerable flaws” in the system. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign called it “a mess.” Bernie Sanders supporter Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., offered this tweet: “Democracy dies in the darkness!”
The spectacle provided some levity for conservatives like Jim Geraghty, senior political correspondent for National Review. “The party that wants the federal government to take over the health-care system cannot add up numbers from 1,600 precincts,” he wrote.
On a serious note, Geraghty said what transpired shakes the public’s faith in free and fair elections. If something similar occurred in another country, he wrote, “would we look at the lengthy and inexplicable delay as evidence that some sort of shenanigans were going on?”
David Yepsen, widely regarded former political reporter and columnist for the Des Moines Register, said he expects Iowans themselves to move to end the caucuses — turnout was far lower than expected — and hold a primary election sometime after New Hampshire.
“The rest of the country was already losing patience with Iowa anyway and this cooks Iowa’s goose,” he said. “Frankly, it should.”
Whether that transpires is unknown. What is certain, however, is that Monday was an embarrassing black eye for the Democratic Party.