Caucus Chaos Leaves Iowa Without an Official Winner

Written by Charlotte Powers

The Associated Press announced Thursday, Feb. 6, that they could not determine a winner in the Iowa caucuses due to “irregularities in this year’s caucus process.” This announcement came three days after the caucuses on Feb. 3, where an untested and unsecured vote-counting app caused confusion throughout the night. Many precinct captains reported getting strange glitches and errors on the app. One precinct chair even said that the app had changed the results they submitted after one such glitch, according to CNN. 

It was soon clear that no results would be coming out that night. Despite the lack of results, former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg declared himself the winner at 12:30 AM ET, tweeting “By all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.” This claim was contested by Bernie Sanders’ campaign, who released their internal numbers for about 40% of precincts, which showed Sanders in a “comfortable” five-point lead over Buttigieg, who the numbers showed was in 2nd place. Buttigieg received backlash across social media for his declaration, with #MayorCheat trending across the United States. 

On Tuesday, the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) announced that results would be periodically released, beginning with 62% of precincts at 5:00 PM that day. When the first batch was released, it showed Sanders leading in the popular vote while Buttigieg led in state delegate equivalents (SDEs).  As more results were released over the next few days, that pattern persisted with Sanders’ popular vote margin steadily growing and Buttigieg’s SDE lead steadily shrinking. SDEs select Pledged delegates, that go on to directly vote for their prefered nominee during the Democratic National Committee (DNC) convention.

With nearly 100% of the results from the Iowa Democratic Party, Sanders held a 2,631 vote lead on Buttigieg in the popular vote. Buttigieg, however, held on to his slight SDE lead, beating Sanders by a margin of less than 0.1%. However, dozens of irregularities in delegate counts across the state have called Buttigieg’s lead into question. On Thursday, Feb. 6 the New York Times reported that there were over 100 precincts with errors in delegate counts that could swing the SDE count to Sanders. Many of these errors were made known to the IDP more than 24 hours before the final results were released but were not corrected for the final count.

Professor of Political Science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland Susan Grogan spoke about the situation in Iowa. Grogan stated that the Iowa Democratic Party, whose job it is to report the results, was “in over its head.” When asked whether the IDP should have corrected errors in delegate allocation, Grogan responded, “They probably should have. If they were going to delay that long, they should have delayed another day or half-day to fix these things they knew about.”

For nearly 50 years, Iowa has remained the first state where Americans get to express their preference for a presidential candidate. Despite the chaos of this year’s caucuses, Grogan isn’t sure whether it will cost Iowa its first-in-the-nation status. “In the past there have been many attempts to get rid of the Iowa caucus for various reasons, including the fact that winning candidates who ascended to the Presidency ultimately felt that the caucus was not a good thing for them to have been involved in and it would be good to get rid of it, to no avail,” Grogan said. 

Despite the contested state delegate numbers Sanders and Buttigieg tied in the number of the pledged delegates that they will receive from Iowa, with 11 each. Although, the result could change now that the DNC has announced that it will recaucus do to the many voting irregularities and the close results. 

Grogan explained that there were two benefits to a decisive victory in Iowa: “one, gain momentum that will indicate that this person is likely to win in later contests and two, crow about that momentum in an effort to raise funds.” With still clouded results , the candidates will move on to New Hampshire and Nevada without a critical boost.

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