State party chairman Troy Price informed campaigns that he would release at least 50% of all caucus results at 5 p.m. EST, but he declined to answer pointed questions from frustrated campaign representatives about when the party would release the full results or how it could ensure their integrity — even whether it would be a matter of days or weeks.
Why would they release partial results? Unless it’s a blowout for one candidate, which it assuredly isn’t, it doesn’t tell us much of anything. Although I suppose a partial result in which Bernie, Buttigieg, and Warren are all north of 20 percent while Biden’s staggering along at 12 would tell us something. Then again, imagine that partial results are released today from mostly urban precincts showing Biden getting hammered, the media goes into frenzy and kills Biden over it, and then a few days from now complete results are released showing Biden finishing higher on the strength of rural support. The partial results might have wrecked his chances in New Hampshire as voters there quickly — and falsely — became convinced that his candidacy has already fizzled.
Fun stuff. Anyway, the GOP is making hay of this fiasco by speculating about the Democratic establishment “rigging” the vote against Bernie but the wrinkle in that theory is that, as far as I’m aware, the results at each precinct are publicly announced to caucusgoers right then and there once they’re tallied. They’re not a secret. If the state party tries to fiddle with the numbers in a given precinct there’ll be dozens, hundreds, possibly thousands of witnesses from caucus night who can call BS.
But that raises a question. If the results at each individual precinct are publicly known, how the hell can they not have complete results by now after nearly a full day of counting? They’ve had around 20 hours to touch base with 1,700 or so precinct chairs. Normally they do this on caucus night in the span of two hours. There’s got to be more to this.
From the reporting I’ve read today, it seems there were three distinct problems last night that converged to form the perfect storm. One was the now-infamous app to report precinct results, which itself had a host of sub-problems. It was reportedly buggy. Some precinct chairs weren’t able to download it in the first place. And the Iowa Democratic Party apparently never got around to training everyone in how to use it:
“The app wasn’t included in the chair training that everyone was required to take,” said Zach Simonson, the Democratic Party chair in Wapello County.
“When you have an app that you’re sending out to 1,700 people and many of them might be newer to apps and that kind of stuff, it might have been worth doing a couple months’ worth of testing,” said Mr. Bagniewski, the Polk County chairman.
The app was built just within the past two months and was apparently never tested on a statewide scale to make sure that it could handle 1,700 precinct results all being reported more or less simultaneously. Which would have been useful in hindsight:
The details of Shadow's epic fail keep getting worse. They deployed the Android app through a free version of TestFairy, which caps the number of users at 200. https://t.co/8Xq3WRWA7v pic.twitter.com/fogUbRxJ9k
— Adrienne (@AdrienneRoyer) February 4, 2020
But that’s okay. There’s always the old-fashioned way of reporting results to HQ, the trusty telephone. Which brings us to problem two: The trusty telephone wasn’t so trusty.
In precinct chairs’ packets, there was a public hotline number and a precinct chair hotline. Many people in the call center who were fielding calls from caucus chairs also got many calls through what appeared to be the public hotline, which was listed prominently on the state party’s website. That led to a significant amount of calls coming into the party’s call center that weren’t from caucus chairs, jamming up the system.
Multiple people in the room reported receiving non-stop calls from two phone numbers, one of which had a Dubuque-area number, that clogged up the phone lines. No one was on the other end of the call when answered, and the number would call back almost immediately to the room after someone hung up on it. It only took up about 30 seconds of someone’s time each time it happened, but those still added up…
The other widely reported problem from those working the phones was the number of journalists who called into the line to ask about what was happening and if they could get results.
Yeesh. Still, if the problem were a simple matter of the precinct chairs getting in touch with the state party to officially report, you’d expect they’d have ample time to do so by 5 p.m. this afternoon. What’s probably still complicating the matter is problem three, the sheer complexity of having to report not one, not two, but three separate sets of results statewide. If you read last night’s live thread you already know what they are. There’s the “first alignment,” when caucusgoers named their first preference; there’s the “final alignment,” after supporters of candidates who failed to clear 15 percent had a chance to realign with viable candidates; and there’s the final delegate haul for each candidate. Berniebros wanted those changes made in the name of transparency after his near-miss in 2016 but calculating those numbers is more complicated than you might think. Slog through Nate Cohn’s explanation of how it’s done and you’ll find there’s a possibility that three different candidates will have won the first alignment, final alignment, and delegate count when this is all over.
On top of that, the Iowa Democratic Party alleged last night that there were “inconsistencies” between some numbers, which may be a reference to getting delegate totals to match up to each candidate’s “final alignment” share. Or, more ominously, it may refer to the possibility that the number of preference cards signed by caucusgoers at each precinct stating the name of the candidate they support didn’t quite match some of the head counts at that precinct. E.g., if you have 190 preference cards for Bernie at a given location and an official total of 180 on the head count, which number is the correct one? If you want to see how chaotic it can get in the room, read Timothy Carney’s dispatch from one precinct last night about the various ways votes can be miscounted when dozens or hundreds of people are shuffling around.
Caucus systems are lots of fun to watch and doubtless more fun to participate in. But they’re raw sewage in terms of electoral security, and a raw deal for anyone who can’t make it out to a precinct in a particular two- or three-hour window on a particular day or just doesn’t want their neighbors to know how they vote. It finally caught up to Iowa last night. In 2024 they’ll either have a true primary or they’ll lose their first-in-the-nation status. Or both.
One more fun tidbit from the Times: “The app used by the Iowa Democratic Party was built by Shadow Inc., a for-profit technology company that is also used by the Nevada Democratic Party, the next state to hold a caucus…” Uh, not as of this afternoon. I’ll leave you with this as we wait for the IDP to finally, finally report results.
— Dave Catanese (@davecatanese) February 4, 2020
Update: The chair of the IDP is speaking at a little after 5 p.m. and says he intends to release 62 percent of the results. When the other 38 percent is coming he … cannot say.
Update: Maybe Mayor Pete was right last night when he said he was “victorious.” The results with 62 percent reporting:
62% reporting, per CNN
— Sam Stein (@samstein) February 4, 2020
That’s a big number for Buttigieg, probably aided by Biden and Klobuchar fans gravitating to him in precincts where those two candidates weren’t viable. It’s a good number for Bernie too, as he’s obviously well positioned to win when all of the votes are counted. And even if he doesn’t, Buttigieg is the one candidate more than any other whom he would have preferred to lose to in Iowa if he had to lose. A Warren win would have knocked Sanders down, questioning his status as the progressive champion. A Biden win would have proved that Grandpa Joe is for real, complicating Bernie’s path to the nomination. Few expect Buttigieg to have legs in a long race to come, though. In fact, having Pete in the top two may help Bernie inasmuch as Pete’s continued viability makes it that much harder for Biden to gain traction in the early states.
Is a lead like this one enough to make a projection, with nearly two-thirds of precincts reporting? Probably not, says Nate Cohn:
As a general proposition, the media organizations aren't usually able to project even fairly competitive races with ~62% counted. If it's extremely representative, maybe in a 4 pt race.
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) February 4, 2020
Klobuchar, by the way, is currently at 12.6 percent, conspicuously close to Biden’s fourth-place number. Major subplot for the final tally: Will she actually pass him for fourth? If she does, what does that do to their respective totals in New Hampshire?
Update: This is likely true.
Releasing the 62% of the vote that shows Pete edging Bernie somehow made it all worse. The Bernie people are going to lose their everloving MINDS over this.
— Chris Hansen (@tankcat) February 4, 2020
Team Bernie thinks they won. And maybe they did. Imagine that these are the only results we get from Iowa before New Hampshire votes, then Buttigieg does surprisingly well on election night in NH. Then Iowa turns around and says, “We finished the count and, um, Bernie won.” Sanders will go nuts, believing that Mayor Pete got a bounce from these partial results that wasn’t properly his. And that bounce may translate into a real win, or at least a strong, encouraging showing, in New Hampshire.
Update: Cohn’s point that one candidate might lead in the actual voting while another candidate leads in the delegate count was prescient. Check this out:
With 62% of precincts reporting:
— Nathaniel Rakich (@baseballot) February 4, 2020
Bernie leads on the first alignment and the final alignment. But presumably because Buttigieg’s support is a bit more rural, and rural precincts tend to “weigh” more for complicated reasons, he’s ahead on delegates.