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Iowa Reports No Caucus Winner After ‘Inconsistencies’ Bedevil Count

2020-02-04 12:06:13

(Bloomberg) — Iowa Democrats will finally release most of the much-delayed results of its troubled caucuses by 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, hoping to salvage the process after a disastrous night cast doubts on its key role in the presidential nominating process.

Chairman Troy Price told the campaigns on a conference call that more than 50% of the results would be released after the party “worked through the night” to check the quality of its results and to collect any outstanding data.

On Monday night, the caucuses that were meant to give shape to the Democratic presidential race devolved into political embarrassment for the party and left candidates and voters hanging with no results and no springboard into the next round of contests.

An attempt to modernize the arcane Iowa caucus system and make it more transparent melted down with the introduction of new technology and more complex rules. The Iowa Democratic Party was unable to release results from Monday’s caucuses after discovering “inconsistencies” in reporting from some precincts.

By morning, the state Democratic Party said in a statement that it had identified a flaw in the phone application used to report results that failed Monday night.

“We determined with certainty that the underlying data collected via the app was sound,” Price, the state chairman, said in the statement. “While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data. We have determined that this was due to a coding issue in the reporting system. This issue was identified and fixed.”

The party’s clean-up efforts are unlikely to quiet critics.

An official with former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign confirmed that the campaign had previously used services from the vendor that created Iowa’s failed app, but stopped because its IT team expressed security concerns. However, the campaign didn’t use the specific app that the Iowa Democratic Party adopted.

Earlier, Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, said in a Fox News interview Tuesday that the federal department had offered to review the Iowa Caucus app, but the agency’s offer was rebuffed.

In the void, several campaigns leaked unverified internal campaign data — submitted by their own precinct captains — to claim a strong showing.

Pete Buttigieg effectively delivered his victory speech to supporters, saying, “By all indications we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.” Bernie Sanders’s campaign also released a ranking that showed Sanders at No. 1. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign said she outperformed Biden for fourth place.

None of those results could be confirmed.

Electoral Credibility

The foul-up occurred just days after the closely watched Iowa Poll canceled a Saturday release, saying, in effect, it couldn’t stand behind the results. And the controversy occurred against a backdrop of increasing worry about the credibility of electoral results, following Russian interference in President Donald Trump’s election in 2016. It threatened to put a shadow over the final results, whenever they are announced.

Trump on Tuesday morning claimed on Twitter that he was “the only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night.” He called the Democratic results “an unmitigated disaster.”

The Iowa contest is the first in a long cycle of caucuses and primaries that stretches until June — awarding just 1% of the delegates needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. But Iowa offers outsized momentum to its strong finishers as they headed to New Hampshire a week away. Sanders leads the polls there comfortably, followed by Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Buttigieg.

The Iowa Democratic Party said there was no evidence of hacking in the results, merely human error and other inconsistencies that forced the party to resort to hand-counting the votes.

What happened was that the state party deployed a new phone app for precinct chairmen to report results at the same time it deployed a new system for tabulating winners. Both appear to have failed.

Precinct chairmen found it difficult to use the app and instead resorted to calling a hotline. The hotline got so jammed up that they were waiting for 30 minutes or more for someone to answer. Then the party reported there were “inconsistencies” in the count and decided to withhold announcing results until at least Tuesday.

Warren’s campaign manager, Roger Lau, said the delay was concerning and disappointing. “Every second that passes undermines the process a little bit,” he said.

‘Full Explanations’

Biden’s campaign was the most muted about its Iowa showing, preferring instead to issue a sharply worded letter from the campaign’s general counsel, demanding “full explanations and relevant information” about its quality control efforts and a chance to respond “before any official results are released.”

Biden, who had been leading in national polls but was struggling in Iowa, said he was moving on to the New Hampshire primary and beyond. “We’re in this for the long haul,” Biden told a crowd in Des Moines.

Trump’s campaign and his allies ridiculed the Democrats for the chaos and used it to try to stoke divisions among the candidates, suggesting the party was trying to “fix” the results. Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, called it “the sloppiest train wreck in history.”

“And these are the people who want to run our entire health care system?” he said in an email.

The disruption in the reporting is likely to accelerate calls for an end to caucuses. Only three other states — Nevada, Wyoming and Kansas — still use the caucus system in the nomination race as the national party has tried to shift states toward using primaries.

State party officials held a conference call with representatives of the campaigns late Monday and read a statement about the failures that had already been released, according to another person, who was familiar with the call. When campaign representatives began asking questions and expressed frustration, the Iowa Democrats abruptly ended the call, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In the earlier statement, Iowa Democratic Party Communications Director Mandy McClure said officials “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results.” She said that in addition to their technology systems, party officials also were using photos of results and paper records to verify the tallies.

“This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion,” McClure said. “The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.”

The Iowa Democratic Party went into the 2020 caucuses touting a series of reforms intended to make the process more fair, accountable and transparent.

There are now three sets of results reported, allowing greater visibility into who participants supported in the first and second rounds, as supporters of candidates who don’t meet a 15% threshold are given a chance to join with backers of other candidates.

The party developed a smartphone app to expand the online reporting of results from precincts to party headquarters. And there’s a paper trail of presidential preference cards filled out by each caucus-goer, allowing the party to re-create the results even after the caucus ends.

But the rule changes created chaos and confusion.

The delay in reporting results followed complaints from some local party officials that they were struggling to use the new telephone application to report tallies from precincts.

Read more: A QuickTake on how the Iowa caucuses work

One precinct chair in Polk County told Bloomberg News he hadn’t been able to report his results because the phone app wasn’t working and he had been on hold with an alternative hotline for more than 30 minutes.

The application is one of the ways local officials who oversee individual caucuses are able to send results from each of the almost 1,700 sites to the Iowa Democratic Party, which compiles and checks the results.

Four Democratic county chairs told Bloomberg News earlier in the day that some precinct-level officials told them that they had been unable to download or log in to the phone app.

“We are experiencing some issues in terms of people being able to load and connect with the app for their precinct reporting,” said Bret Nilles, chairman of the Linn County Democratic Party.

The party first used a smartphone application to report results in 2016, but before then, all results were submitted by phoning them in.

“A lot of us are going to be doing it on paper and calling it in,” said Kelcey Brackett, the chairman of the Muscatine County Democratic Party.

(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

(Updates with Democratic Party statement, DHS comment starting in third paragraph)

–With assistance from Gregory Korte and Jennifer Jacobs.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tyler Pager in Des Moines at [email protected];Jennifer Epstein in Des Moines at [email protected];Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou in Des Moines at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at [email protected], Larry Liebert, Magan Crane

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

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©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


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