Iowa Caucus Debacle

February 7, 2020

The highly anticipated caucuses began Monday night in Iowa, starting the true campaign trail for presidential candidates. For many candidates, Iowa is a determining factor in their decision to stay in the race and whether the candidates have enough popularity to win the vote. The caucuses have been influential in past years; Obama won in 2008 and became a popular opponent, John Kerry won the caucuses in 2004 and upended his opponent Howard Dean’s campaign. The unpredictable win is not uncommon, but this year faced a whole new beast. 

The winners of the democratic party were not announced for more than 72 hours. “We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” Mandy McClure, communications director for the state party, said in the statement. This delay was brought on by the introduction of an app to help tally votes more efficiently. Caucus volunteers had trouble downloading and sending votes through the app and could not contact party leaders. “We took the steps we felt [were] necessary, but we found a coding error last night once we discovered some irregularities,” The Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price stated after the caucuses and only partial results were released. 

Another blip in the plan were the new rules that the Democratic party released before the caucuses. In past years, the caucuses operated similarly to the Electoral College but produced close results in 2016. Hillary Clinton won the caucuses with 49.9% of the vote and Sanders trailed her with 49.6%. This narrow margin invoked an outcry from Sanders supporters that believed there were small errors that had changed the outcome. The new rules will count the attendees for a more accurate tally. “I think candidates will spin whatever narrative they want to coming out of caucus night,” chairman Price said. “Our job is just to make sure that the data is accurate – that it accurately reflects what happened on caucus night. And that’s what we’re going to stay focused on.” This year, two totals and delegate numbers after caucus night would be released; contrary to past years when the popular vote was not released. This adds another layer to the competition because a candidate could win the delegate count but lose the popular vote.  These changes were intended to improve the process and increase transparency, but this plan fell apart after the app crashed after a few test runs and development. This debacle created chaos all over the nation as candidates were unsure of who was going to come out on top, so they each held victory speeches in optimistic lights. 

As of Thursday evening, only 99% of the precinct’s votes were released. They showed Pete Buttigieg leading with 26.2% of the vote, Bernie Sanders with 26.1%, and Elizabeth Warren with 18.2%. This miscommunication has led many to believe that Iowa is not fit for the first pick of the presidential nominee. “Every four years Iowa has to defend its position,” Dennis Goldford, a professor of political science at Drake University noted. “It’s always been an uphill road for Iowa, but now that road is a little steeper.” One of the important factors being debated is Iowa’s overwhelmingly white population of 91%. There have always been criticisms of the caucuses because of their lack of anonymous voting, low turnout, the long process to proclaim a winner, and the lack of diversity. On the other hand, Iowa is praised for its unique caucus process that narrows down candidates through discussion and debate that is unlike any other state. 

This catastrophe will be going down in the books and is stirring up a lot of controversies. It may be time to say goodbye to the caucuses that Iowans are so fiercely proud about, or this debacle may invoke changes to the system to prevent these mistakes from happening again. However, this event is leading people to reconsider their approaches to the caucusing, voting, and primary process.


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