vision 2020

The Final Results of the Last Iowa Caucus Ever Are In

Buttigieg will go down as the official winner in what will probably be the last Iowa caucuses as we know them, though Sanders carried the raw vote. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Twenty-four days after Caucus Night, the final, no-kidding, this-is-it results of the Iowa caucuses were released in the dead of last night. After a selective re-canvass called to check precinct captains’ math, and then a selective recount (asked for by the Buttigieg and Sanders campaigns) of individual caucusgoers’ preference cards, Pete Buttigieg held on to a tiny advantage over Bernie Sanders in state delegate equivalents, the arcane measurement always used by Iowa to determine caucus winners after alignment and realignment of caucusgoers in over 1,700 precincts, Mayor Pete wound up with 562.954 SDEs, and Bernie with 562.021 (Elizabeth Warren was a distant third with 388.44). By virtue of winning statewide and in two congressional districts, Buttigieg will have 14 Iowa delegates to the national convention, with Sanders receiving 12, Warren eight, Biden six, and Klobuchar one.

There remain, however, two Iowa “winners,” since Sanders edged Buttigieg in two measurements of raw votes, based on initial (a 6,100-vote Sanders lead) and then on realigned (a 2,500-vote lead) preferences. The DNC required that Iowa release these numbers along with SDEs after Sanders supporters claimed in 2016 that he had “really” won (it was impossible to determine without the raw preference numbers).

As Iowa Starting Line noted, the long delay in releasing final caucus totals (they will be officially certified tomorrow and probably forgotten forever) had nothing to do with the Caucus Night chaos that left the political world in angry suspense, and everything to do with the incredibly close contest for SDEs:

While it has now taken three and a half weeks to determine the final result, it’s noteworthy that the process likely would have played out like this even with the caucus night reporting breakdown (or had this been a primary state). Sanders and Buttigieg simply finished incredibly close to one another in the SDE totals to where it’s unlikely a winner could have been called had results come out normally on Feb. 3 and a recanvass and recount would have occurred anyway.

But the damage from Caucus Night remains and persists. Despite these final numbers, the Associated Press is refusing to name a winner for Iowa “given the remaining concerns about whether the overall results are fully accurate.” Basically the brouhaha over the initial meltdown in reporting of results, and then the re-canvass and recount caused by the Buttigieg-Sanders photo finish, exposed the rickety undercarriage of the caucus system, with its dependence of volunteers and back-of-the-envelope arithmetic. Arguably, Nevada had nearly as many problems with its own caucuses — modeled on Iowa’s — but because there were a smattering of results and a clear winner, the media folk who crucified Iowa on Caucus Night didn’t care.

The bottom line is that the DNC will almost certainly ban caucuses altogether before the next nominating cycle (seeing the handwriting on the wall, Nevada’s Democratic big dog Harry Reid has already called for his state to move back to a primary). And while they’re at it, the DNC will also review the nominating-contest calendar and very likely kick Iowa out of the leading spot in favor of some state with a more representative population.

So these “final” caucus results are final in every sense of that word, since they almost certainly mark the end of the Iowa caucuses as we have known them. As I noted the morning after Caucus Night, it was going to happen inevitably:

The caucuses in their complexity have always represented a half-miracle pulled off quadrennially by a vast army of volunteers and a relatively small cadre of professionals. This year’s trebled reporting requirements (forced on Iowa by the national party) and the technological means chosen to accommodate them finally broke the Iowa Democratic Party. And that happened at the worst possible time, when critics and coveters of Iowa’s privileged perch in the nomination process had already built up a head of hateful steam.

You had a good 48-year run, Iowa. But it’s time to move on.

The Final Results of the Last Iowa Caucus Ever Are In