Iowa Caucus Disaster Continues

Boxes of voters registration forms are stacked in a space that the Iowa Democratic Party occupied near its headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, on February 4, 2020.
Boxes of voters registration forms are stacked in a space that the Iowa Democratic Party occupied near its headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, on February 4, 2020 (Alex Wong, Getty Images)

By Terrance Turner

The Iowa caucuses began at 7:00 last night. As of this writing, we have STILL not learned the full results. As we pass 24 hours with only 62% of the results, explanations are in short supply. But here’s one on how we got here.

What’s a caucus? “A closed meeting of a group of persons belonging to the same political party […] usually to select candidates or to decide on policy,” according to Merriam Webster. The Iowa caucuses are part of the presidential primaries — the process by which each party decides who to nominate for president.

The Guardian explains: “The primary race is made up of a series of contests called primaries
and caucuses
 that take place in all 50 states plus Washington, DC and outlying territories, by which the parties select their presidential nominee.” Some states hold primaries; others have only caucuses, and some states use a combination of both.

What’s the difference between the two? “Caucuses are elections run by political parties, while primaries are run by state governments,” according to USA Today. In primaries, voters to go a polling place and vote. They go to a polling station and cast their vote privately. Or they can mail in a ballot. In caucuses, participants meet for hours at a caucus location (a church, school, library, or even house). Officials count how many supporters there are for each candidate.

Each candidate needs support from 15% of the room. (For example, if a room has 100 people, a candidate needs 15 of them as supporters.) Groups with 15% or more membership are “viable” and locked in. If your candidate doesn’t have 15% or more support, the group is not viable. Such groups must then take part in “re-alignment”.

In realignment, members of non-viable groups can move around. They can join a viable candidate group. They could join with other non-viable groups to form an “uncommitted” group. Or they can just go home. Then supporters are counted again. The number of people in each viable group determine how many delegates each candidate gets.

Iowa has 41 delegates — just two percent of the more than 1,000 delegates needed. Nor is it representative of the Democratic Party or the country. It is rural and 90.7% white. It is also the site of a massive political failure.

UPDATE: The full results were ade public on Sunday. In an unusual move, the Associated Press announced that it was unable to declare a winner. It explained why in a lengthy article, which reads, in part:

The reporting of caucus results in Iowa this year was marred by multiple problems: tech issues with the mobile phone app used to collect data from caucus sites, an overwhelming number of calls to the party’s backup phone system and a subsequent delay of several days in reporting the results.

An AP review of the results provided by the Iowa Democratic Party also found numerous precinct results that contained errors or were inconsistent with party rules. For example, dozens of precincts reported more final alignment votes than first alignment votes, which is not possible under party rules. In one precinct in Polk County, home to the state capital of Des Moines, the party’s data showed no candidates winning any votes in the first alignment but winning 215 votes in the final alignment.

From “AP Explains: Why isn’t there a winner of Iowa’s Dem caucuses”

Additionally, Sen. Sanders requested a recanvassing of the Iowa caucus — a check of the vote count to ensure results were correct. That could delay the results even further.

As it stands, however, Pete Buttigieg appears to be the winner. The AP reported that Sunday’s results showed him leading Sanders by 0.09 percentage points. On Sunday, the Iowa Democratic Party awarded 14 delegates to Buttigieg and 12 to Sanders, according to NBC News. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass.) received 8 delegates; former Vice President Joe Biden received 6 and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) received 1, the party said. Interestingly, NBC News also declined to announce a winner.

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