Over a year since the first batch of politicians and assorted business types announced their plans to run for the presidency, the candidates running in the Democratic primary will soon get some real results, thanks to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. But not too soon: Three full days after Iowans gathered to cast their preference for a primary candidate, delays caused by the Iowa Democratic Party’s vote-tallying app have sunk the state into electoral chaos. Below is everything you need to know to understand the results thus far, and the latest reasons for the debacle.
Sanders and Buttigieg request partial recanvas
On Monday, both the Buttigieg and Sanders campaigns officially requested partial recanvasses of the caucus results on Monday. As opposed to a recount, a recanvas entails reviewing the math worksheets from the caucus sites. The Buttigieg campaign wants 66 precincts reviewed, while the Sanders campaign has 28 precincts on its list — though campaign manager Jeff Weaver said that he doesn’t expect the recanvas to affect the current counts, but is making the request as the first step in the process of reexamining the numbers.
A Falling Sign of the Times for the IDP
The Iowa Democratic Party suffered a literally symbolic mishap on Monday, when the party’s sign fell off the podium chairman Troy Price was standing behind to give his latest updates on the review process.
Prior to that, reports that landed over the weekend detailed the failures to properly plan for and execute the caucus process. As summarized by the New York Times on Sunday:
As disastrous as the 2020 Iowa caucuses have appeared to the public, the failure runs deeper and wider than has previously been known, according to dozens of interviews with those involved. It was a total system breakdown that casts doubt on how a critical contest on the American political calendar has been managed for years.
And on Saturday, the Des Moines Register published an hour-by-hour account of what it was like in the IDP’s boiler room as the debacle unfolded — like this segment about the chaos that followed a sudden flood of calls coming into the party:
Those inside the boiler room knew something had gone wrong. About 60 people were staffing phones, but the incoming calls had reached an avalanche by 9 p.m. It didn’t subside until hours later. “It was hell,” said one volunteer.
The volunteers were getting complaints and pranks, including some from supporters of Republican President Donald Trump. Other callers tried to report fake results after the ID and PIN numbers from some precincts were posted in photos on Twitter. Many more callers were journalists seeking information.
The DNC wants a caucus count do-over
It looks like an official count in Iowa is going to be delayed even further: On Thursday, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez announced that the organization was requesting that the IDP recount the caucus:
As is the norm with everything in this mess, an audit would be quite complicated, involving a review of worksheets from each caucus site to ensure they were correctly calculated and reported, as well as individuals’ presidential preference cards, of which there are around 180,000.
All of the official results are now in, but errors have been reported
Finally, on Thursday night, 100 percent of the results were in. But, to add to the chaos that has characterized these caucuses from the start, the New York Times reported that the numbers that have been reported “were riddled with inconsistencies” — with precinct results that were “internally inconsistent, that were missing data or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses.” The mistakes will likely give new life to the wealth of conspiracy theories that had already cropped up since Monday night.
Setting aside the errors — it’s impossible to know how they might affect one or another candidate — the state-delegate numbers, which cover precincts in all 99 counties, show that Pete Buttigieg’s lead over Bernie Sanders in State Delegate Equivalents (SDEs) has shrunk to a tiny margin, while national poll front-runner Joe Biden is still in a distant fourth place.
State-Delegate-Equivalent totals — i.e. the delegate haul
(from 100 percent of precincts in all 99 counties)
- Pete Buttigieg: 26.2% — 564 SDEs
- Bernie Sanders: 26.1% — 562 SDEs
- Elizabeth Warren: 18% — 387 SDEs
- Joe Biden: 15.8% — 341 SDEs
- Amy Klobuchar: 12.2% — 264 SDEs
- Andrew Yang: 1% — 22 SDEs
On Sunday night, the trusted officials at the Iowa Democratic Party announced that Buttigieg had officially won the most State Delegate Equivalents — though it did not assuage the national party to call off the recount, or convince the AP to call the race in favor of Buttigieg. If the IDP’s math is correct, Buttigieg will receive 14 national delegates; Sanders will pick up 12 delegates; Warren will pick up eight delegates; Joe Biden will pick up six delegates; and Amy Klobuchar will earn a single delegate. The winning candidate will need 1,990 delegates out of 3,979 to secure the nomination.
The new numbers throw a wrench into the story that had emerged from Iowa since Monday night. Pete Buttigieg all but declared himself the winner in Iowa early Tuesday morning, and he seemed to have a valid claim to that status — if the metric used was State Delegate Equivalents. But now, thanks in large part to his strength in satellite caucuses — the irregular contests held for people who couldn’t make it to the official festivities Monday night — Sanders might equal or top Buttigieg’s numbers, while also laying claim to the two different popular-vote counts. Sanders’s campaign hopes to keep that idea alive despite the official IDP count: Campaign manager Faiz Shakir announced Sunday that they intended to call for a partial recanvass of results before the deadline on Monday at noon.
Sanders won the first alignment of caucusgoers:
The First Alignment
(from 100 percent of precincts in all 99 counties)
- Bernie Sanders: 24.7% — 43,671 votes
- Pete Buttigieg: 21.3% — 37,557 votes
- Elizabeth Warren: 18.6% — 32,533 votes
- Joe Biden: 14.9% — 26,384 votes
- Amy Klobuchar: 12.7% — 22,469 votes
Sanders then maintained top position in the realignment, with Buttigieg inching closer.
(from 100 percent of precincts in all 99 counties)
- Bernie Sanders: 26.5% — 45,826 votes
- Pete Buttigieg: 25.0% — 43,195 votes
- Elizabeth Warren: 20.3% — 34,771 votes
- Joe Biden: 13.7% — 23,691 votes
- Amy Klobuchar: 12.2% — 21,181 votes
Why does Mayor Pete have the higher delegate percentage if Bernie has more votes?
There are two explanations for that: (1) The political process in the United States has been carved into complicated and anti-democratic nominating contests that benefit rural Americans over the electorate at-large, and (2)
Buttigieg has a greater representation of state delegates than Sanders (550 to 547) because the ex-mayor performed better in rural districts, where there are more delegates per caucusgoer.
How the candidates are spinning it
What the partial results reveal
Here is the Associated Press’ initial aerial view of the demographics thus far:
Bernie Sanders got a boost from younger voters. Pete Buttigieg connected with voters who want to dramatically change the political system but view themselves as moderates. Elizabeth Warren drew much of her support from college graduates and women. Joe Biden appealed to older voters who saw a chance to recapture an era before President Donald Trump. And Amy Klobuchar built a coalition of older women and moderates.
Another way to view the (partial) results is what they say about the ideologies at play:
Another salient point:
Saturday’s unreleased Selzer poll was pretty close
Conspiracy theories abound
It should come as no surprise that the aftermath of the Iowa debacle has proved to be fertile ground for anyone looking to discredit the results — or the Democratic Party. Everyone from Sanders-supporting influencers to the Biden campaign to the Trump campaign have been casting shadows over the results.
But as Intelligencer’s Sarah Jones argued on Tuesday, while Sanders supporters have plenty of good reasons to suspect the Democratic Party of ill will, there is no more compelling explanation for what happened in Iowa than incompetence:
There are other, more realistic culprits, and only one sensible conclusion to reach: The national party is too incompetent to conspire successfully against any candidate. Its overweening reliance on consultants, lack of a cohesive message, and lackluster investment in its state affiliates render it weak and dysfunctional. If Democratic loyalists are looking for someone to blame for the divisive reaction to Iowa’s failures, they should blame the party itself.
So far, the only clear verdict from Monday’s night’s election in Iowa is that the state’s caucus system, and its first-in-the-nation status, already embattled previously, are in profound jeopardy.
A premature victory claim
On Tuesday, as some campaigns released partial internal numbers to bolster claims that they performed well in the state, Pete Buttigieg claimed a kind-of victory, telling a cheering crowd that “Iowa has shocked the nation.”
He later dialed the rhetoric back a little:
By Thursday, Sanders had declared victory, justifying the claim with some strong logic:
So what went wrong?
What went wrong Monday night? A vote-tabulating app created by the disconcertingly named tech firm Shadow — which was founded by veterans of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign — was at the center of the storm. According to reports, caucus workers were meant to download the largely untested app and use it to transmit results to the state Democratic Party. But the app failed for some volunteers, while others didn’t use it at all, preferring the time-tested method of phoning in the results — only to be placed on endless hold times. The chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party released a statement on Tuesday morning detailing “inconsistencies” in the initial vote counting, which he said were due to a “coding issue.”
Nevada Democrats, who are set to hold their caucus on February 22, announced that they would not be using the Shadow app to report their results, which they had previously planned to.
On Wednesday, ProPublica reported that the calamity could have been worse: Though there was no evidence of hacking, the IowaReporterApp was “so insecure that vote totals, passwords and other sensitive information could have been intercepted or even changed.”
Trump wins, then wins again
President Trump, who easily won the Republican Iowa caucus Monday night (yes, there was one), took the opportunity to gloat.
Meanwhile, Intelligencer’s Frank Rich hasn’t been alone in making the point that the Iowa insanity “is but the latest chapter in a rolling Democratic calamity” that serves as “a gift to Donald Trump.”
As Intelligencer’s Eric Levitz noted Tuesday:
A very normal electoral system is working very well
The Iowa caucuses — in which voters brave the cold to shuffle around in high-school gymnasiums to give a presidential candidate a major primary boost — are known to be a little chaotic. But Polk County is leading the way in terms of inelegant voting solutions:
How do the Iowa caucuses work again?
Don’t worry, it’s a common question. As New York’s Ed Kilgore graciously explained earlier today, participants at each of the state’s 1,687 precincts “are told to go stand or sit in particular parts of the meeting room corresponding to their preferred candidate. A careful count is made and the numbers are recorded (this year, for the first time, they will be reported statewide as one of three measures of support). A ‘viability threshold’ is applied to figure out which candidates are eligible to win delegates; for all but the smallest precincts, it will be 15 percent.” If Iowans support a candidate who does not break 15 percent support, they can either realign with a viable candidate or just go home; votes will be counted again after the realignment.