Technical debacle in reporting vote clouds future of Iowa caucuses

The Democratic Party’s Iowa caucuses, which were expected to begin to bring clarity to a crowded field, turned into an embarrassing fiasco when a new smartphone app meant to speed the reporting of results crashed early in the evening. The debacle raised questions about the future of Iowa’s complicated, idiosyncratic caucus system.

“We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” Mandy McClure, a spokesperson for the state party, said in a statement. “In addition to the tech system being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report. This is simply a reporting issue: The app did not go down, and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.”

The counting of votes was delayed for hours, after a reported glitch with the smartphone app prevented precinct captains from reporting vote totals. The app was meant to speed the reporting of results from over 1,600 locations across the state, but officials had to resort to tabulating the results by hand, reporting them by phone. One captain, interviewed on cable news, said he had been on hold with state headquarters for two hours.

“The integrity of the results is paramount. We have experienced a delay in the results due to quality checks and the fact that the IDP is reporting out three data sets for the first time. What we know right now is that around 25% of precincts have reported, and early data indicates turnout is on pace for 2016,” the IDP’s communications director, Mandy McClure, said in an initial statement.

Republicans used the delay to stoke conspiracy theories and boast about the results of their own caucus, in which President Trump, facing only token opposition, won almost unanimously. Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, said: “Democrats are stewing in a caucus mess of their own creation with the sloppiest train wreck in history. It would be natural for people to doubt the fairness of the process. And these are the people who want to run our entire health care system? Tonight President Trump posted a record performance in the well-run GOP Iowa caucuses with record turnout for an incumbent.”

Iowa Democratic Party officials assured the campaigns on a phone call that the app had not been hacked, and that the results were backed up with a “paper trail.” At the same time, the officials said they had spotted “inconsistencies” in the vote totals being reported.

“Can you believe it? It only had to work one time! This time!” a staffer of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, exclaimed in exasperation.

An adviser to one of the Democratic campaigns told Yahoo News that this could spell the end of Iowa’s long-standing prerogative of holding the first vote in the nation. "It's dead. The campaigns gave them millions of dollars. It's dead."

The lengthy delay sent the candidates scrambling to come up with a strategy for how to cope with a delay that threw their schedules into doubt and left them scrambling to address their supporters — and the country.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was the first candidate to break the silence, taking the stage in Des Moines at 10:23 p.m. local time to deliver what was neither a victory nor concession speech, but a preview of the campaign she hopes to run against President Trump.

Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke next.

“It looks like it’s going to be a long night, but I’m feeling good,” he said to a room of enthusiastic supporters. Biden, who has led in national polling since he entered the race, had slipped in Iowa polls in recent weeks.

In a terse letter to the Iowa Democratic Party chairman, Troy Price, however, the Biden campaign said that all the candidates “deserve full explanations and relevant information regarding the methods of quality control you are employing, and an opportunity to respond, before any official results are released.”

The other leading candidates also spoke, attempting to steer the messaging of the night back to their campaign themes.

"I have a strong feeling that at some point the results will be announced. And when those results are announced, I have a feeling that we're going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa,” said Sanders, who had pulled into the lead in some state polls.

"We don't know all the results," said Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., adding that "Iowa had shocked the nation" because his campaign was "going on to New Hampshire victorious."

With less than 2 percent of the votes counted by midnight EST, Sanders was in the lead, with 27.75 percent of the votes cast. Warren was in second place, with 25.07 percent, while Buttigieg was in third place, with 23.8 percent.

With reporting by Hunter Walker and Brittany Shepherd in Des Moines

Cover thumbnail photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP


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