It genuinely is not clear what’s going on with the Democratic caucuses in Iowa.
Via news and social media at 7 PM (Central), the word came out that caucus voting was underway. Both Democrats and Republicans were holding caucuses in the state on Monday, and the Republican results were reported out quickly. (President Trump has won overwhelmingly with 31,348 votes at the latest count — with 95% of the votes counted — representing 97.1% of the total votes cast by caucus-goers.)
Democratic results might have been expected to take a bit longer, given the predicted split among multiple candidates. But the hours have dragged on with no results reported at all – and indeed, with news updates from the counties around Iowa that they can’t even report their local results to the state party headquarters. Some of them have stated that they’ve tried to make reports but been unable to do so.
Des Moines is in Polk County, for example, and according to CNN, county Chairman Sean Bagniewski said “he has boxes with paper results from the county’s precincts, but no way of reporting them to the state party. Some precinct chairs told Bagniewski they’d been on hold for an hour-and-a-half to two hours — and sometimes had their calls disconnected after getting through.”
Bagniewski told CNN, “There’s no way to report them. We’ve got them.”
At one point, Bagniewski “and other Polk County officials asked precinct chairs who hadn’t reported their results to take pictures of their tallies and send them to the county party’s executive director, who then tried to drive them to state party HQ. She arrived at about 9:15 p.m., but was turned away and told that precinct chairs should call their results in as usual.”
Some media blogs suggest there’s a problem with the caucus app implemented for reporting and collating the vote across precincts. But even that is not clear. There are only allusions to such a problem; there are no specifics, and no confirmation from the Iowa Democratic Party.
In fact, the state party released a statement repudiating the suggestion of a problem with the app, and attributing the delay to “inconsistencies”:
We found inconsistencies in the 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 results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report. This is simply a reporting issue. The app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.
The inconsistencies relate to the rounds of voting, including not only the delegates won but the first and second “alignments” of caucus voters with candidates as the vote progressed. After the first alignment, candidates with less than 15% of the vote were eliminated, and caucus-goers could choose to realign with a more popular candidate or discontinue voting. The state party has not clarified what the nature of the “inconsistencies” in these numbers is. The 2020 caucuses are the first in which the raw alignment numbers are being reported.
That doesn’t illuminate, however, why counties have been unable to forward their results to the state. Des Moines County (separately from Polk County) was also unable to connect with the state headquarters to report the county results, either via the app or by phone. Co-chair Tom Courtney said before midnight that they would try again in the morning to forward their results.
Similarly, “Shawn Sebastian, a precinct secretary in Story County [told CNN] ‘I have been on hold for over an hour with the Iowa Democratic Party …’ He said that they first tried to use an app, but that didn’t work. They then turned to a hotline. ‘We’ve been recommended to call in to the hotline, and the hotline has not been responsive.’”
While Sebastian was talking to CNN, the hotline was answered, and a caucus worker started reporting results to the state. Unfortunately, according to CNN, “That’s when the hotline went dead.”
CNN has made one recent update on Polk County, indicating at 1:56 AM Eastern (12:56 Central) that “Bagniewski tweeted at 1:27 a.m. ET that his county’s results had been turned in.”
In a phone call with the campaign staffs around the same time, state party chairman Troy Price seemed to offer few details. CNN was able to listen in on the call, and reported that Price “provided little guidance on when the first numbers would be reported. Price sought to defend the process, arguing that the delay in reporting results stemmed from the party’s desire to ‘ensure the integrity of the process’ but that the party was working to keep ‘campaigns in the loop throughout this entire process.'”
The Bernie Sanders campaign expressed particular disappointment in the lack of information. The state party reportedly took no questions during the early-morning call.
An earlier call, just before 11 PM Central, was no more enlightening. “Campaign sources” told CNN “that the call between campaigns and the Iowa Democratic Party was ‘short and uninformative.’ The party hung up quickly to avoid taking questions, the sources said. The party said they were counting votes manually — but provided no details about what that meant.”
Polk County’s Sean Bagniewski didn’t seem as certain as the Iowa Democratic Party officials that there was nothing wrong with the app or the reporting methods.
“When you have 1,700 precincts in one state,” he reportedly told CNN, “it should be a couple month long process of training folks, testing out the app, making sure it is downloaded, and that wasn’t happening here.”