Yes it does — and the aroma may force Democrats to recast Hillary Clinton’s bragging rights into an outright loss. Did enough human error and potentially more malicious activity skew the final results of the Iowa caucuses? The influential Des Moines Register called for an audit of the Democratic caucuses after Bernie Sanders complained over a number of irregularities in the conduct and the counting of the event:
First of all, the results were too close not to do a complete audit of results. Two-tenths of 1 percent separated Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. A caucus should not be confused with an election, but it’s worth noting that much larger margins trigger automatic recounts in other states.
Second, too many questions have been raised. Too many accounts have arisen of inconsistent counts, untrained and overwhelmed volunteers, confused voters, cramped precinct locations, a lack of voter registration forms and other problems. Too many of us, including members of the Register editorial board who were observing caucuses, saw opportunities for error amid Monday night’s chaos.
The Sanders campaign is rechecking results on its own, going precinct by precinct, and is already finding inconsistencies, said Rania Batrice, a Sanders spokeswoman. The campaign seeks the math sheets or other paperwork that precinct chairs filled out and were supposed to return to the state party. They want to compare those documents to the results entered into a Microsoft app and sent to the party.
If this sounds familiar, it should. Republicans had a similar problem with counting the caucuses in 2012, with Mitt Romney initially declared the narrow winner over surging Rick Santorum. Later, the GOP ended up reversing that conclusion, but Santorum lost the opportunity to increase his momentum in the race from an outright win … at least theoretically, anyway. On top of that, Ron Paul’s supporters ended up with most of the delegates anyway, after they organized through the caucuses to take control of the state convention. The embarrassment forced the Iowa GOP to reform the process, taking better care of caucus counts and requiring their convention delegation to vote proportionally by the results of the caucus.
Reviewing the GOP caucus results was difficult to do, in large part because the votes got cast on what was essentially scrap paper with no retention requirements in place. That would still be easier than an audit of the Democrats’ process, which takes multiple rounds of votes to eliminate candidates who can’t get to 15% in each round. Which votes went to which round? How many votes did each candidate get? Unlike in Republican caucuses, Democrats do not release popular vote totals. They only report the final results in delegates elected. Doing a recount would be impossible under the circumstances, and auditing the results almost as impossible. Oh, and also unlike the Republican caucuses (now), the Democratic caucus results are still non-binding.
If the Democratic caucuses smell, it’s only somewhat stronger than the aroma from caucuses in general. There are no private ballot protections in caucuses, and the lack of the paper trail that primaries and general elections provide means that issues like those seen in this razor-thin outcome can never be properly resolved. Furthermore, caucuses are by their nature not very representative of the electorate within the states. Most of the time, they get dominated by “establishment” forces, and occasionally by small but well-organized activist movements; Ron Paul’s group is a perfect example of the latter, both in Iowa and Minnesota, as well as a few other caucus states. State-run primaries and elections aren’t perfect, but they are much less susceptible to shenanigans, and at least have processes for built-in accountability.
If the DMR editorial board wants to actually fix this process, then they should demand primaries for both parties when it comes to presidential nominations. And the rest of the states should put aside these 19th-century circuses for a process that allows for much broader inclusion.