Confusion reigns as Iowa caucus results are delayed

We may have just experienced the last Iowa caucuses as we know them.

At this writing (around midnight), the Iowa Democratic Party has not posted any results on the official website. By 11:00 pm on caucus night four years ago, the state party had posted results from the vast majority of precincts around the state.

The app developed with the goal of improving reporting has not worked consistently, forcing precinct chairs to call a hotline and convey their numbers verbally. (Kevin Robillard, Amanda Terkel, and Molly Redden reported for the Huffington Post on the firm the state party paid more than $60,000 to development the malfunctioning app.) Shawn Sebastian told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that he spent about two hours on hold before he was able to give a party official the numbers from the precinct he chaired in Ames.

Speaking to news reporters by phone a little after 1:00 am, state party chair Troy Price said,

The integrity of our process and the results have and always will be our top priority.

At this point, the IDP is manually verifying all precinct results. We expect to have numbers to report later today.

We want to emphasize that this is a reporting issue, not a hack or an intrusion. And it’s exactly why we have a paper trail and systems in place to uphold the integrity of our process. We are validating every piece of data we have against our paper trail. That system is taking longer than expected, but it’s in place to ensure we are eventually able to report results with full confidence.

We have said all along, we have these backups in place for exactly this reason. We are updating campaigns and we will continue to provide updates as they are available.

Price did not take questions on the press call, which ended after about a minute.

Polk County Democrats chair Sean Bagniewski told Nick Corasaniti of the New York Times that his 177 precinct chairs had no specific training with the app and had trouble calling in the results. But when the county’s executive director Judy Downs drove to IDP headquarters and attempted to deliver pictures of the results, “she was turned away.”

Anecdotal results from around the state suggest a few trends:

  • Joe Biden seems to have done poorly, failing to reach the viability threshold in many precincts. It appears he will finish fourth, by a significant margin.
  • Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren seem to have been viable in most places, with Sanders doing less well in more prosperous areas. The Sanders campaign released internal data from about 40 percent of the precincts, showing him ahead. (I’ve enclosed that statement below.)
  • Pete Buttigieg did well in many parts of the state, from larger cities to rural communities, and picked up a lot of support on second choices. Some sources indicate that it will be a close race among Buttigieg, Sanders, and Warren. All three candidates delivered what sounded like victory speeches to their supporters.
  • Amy Klobuchar was viable in quite a few precincts and close to the threshold in many others. Her campaign manager Justin Buoen tweeted, “Big night in Iowa. With the numbers we’ve seen internally and publicly, we’re running even or ahead of Vice President Biden. Wheels up to New Hampshire!”
  • Many commentators on Twitter and cable television networks have declared that this disaster will mark the end of the Iowa caucuses. Politico’s chief political correspondent Tim Alberta voiced a widespread sentiment.

    Even David Yepsen, the longtime Des Moines Register political columnist who now hosts the Iowa Public Television program “Iowa Press,” speculated that “this will probably be the last caucus we’ll have to worry about.”

    We had a pretty good run, Iowa.

    I’ll update this post on Tuesday as more results become available. UPDATE: Added below a memo released by the Buttigieg campaign.

    P.S.–While it’s frustrating not to know what happened right away, people shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that reporting raw supporter numbers as well as the delegate count is a very good change. Eventually we will have a fuller picture of Iowans’ preferences.

    Sanders campaign statement, released after midnight:

    DES MOINES, Iowa – Due to the failure of the Iowa Democratic Party to release results tonight and in the interest of full transparency, Bernie 2020 Senior Advisor Jeff Weaver is releasing the campaign’s internal reporting numbers, which represent the results from nearly 40 percent of precincts in Iowa.

    “We recognize that this does not replace the full data from the Iowa Democratic Party, but we believe firmly that our supporters worked too hard for too long to have the results of that work delayed,” Jeff Weaver said.

    The data below was collected by trained Sanders volunteers at representative precincts from all four congressional districts from a cross section of urban and rural parts of the state.

    The Buttigieg campaign sent out this memo a little before 5:00 am on February 4. Their data from volunteers in about 1,200 precincts indicate he received 22 percent support on first alignment, 25 percent after realignment, and about 28 percent of the state delegate equivalents. Anecdotal reports are consistent with the memo’s finding that he did especially well in suburban precincts.

    LATER UPDATE: The Iowa Democratic Party released this statement from Price on February 4.

    “Last night, more than 1,600 precinct caucuses gathered across the state of Iowa and at satellite caucuses around the world to demonstrate our shared values and goal of taking back the White House. The many volunteers running caucus sites, new voters registering as Democrats, and neighbors talking to each other about the future of our country demonstrated the strength of our party.

    “We have every indication that our systems were secure and there was not a cyber security intrusion. In preparation for the caucuses, our systems were tested by independent cybersecurity consultants.

    “As precinct caucus results started coming in, the IDP ran them through an accuracy and quality check. It became clear that there were inconsistencies with the reports. The underlying cause of these inconsistencies was not immediately clear, and required investigation, which took time.

    “As this investigation unfolded, IDP staff activated pre-planned backup measures and entered data manually. This took longer than expected.

    “As part of our investigation, we determined with certainty that the underlying data collected via the app was sound. While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data. We have determined that this was due to a coding issue in the reporting system. This issue was identified and fixed. The application’s reporting issue did not impact the ability of precinct chairs to report data accurately.

    “Because of the required paper documentation, we have been able to verify that the data recorded in the app and used to calculate State Delegate Equivalents is valid and accurate. Precinct level results are still being reported to the IDP. While our plan is to release results as soon as possible today, our ultimate goal is to ensure that the integrity and accuracy of the process continues to be upheld.”

    Top image: Screen shot of Iowa Democratic Party’s official results page shortly after midnight on February 4.

    • Human cost

      For the last three weekends (Thursday-Sunday) we hosted volunteers who came from over 20 different states who gave of their time, energy and resources to come here to help elect a candidate they believed in. We made soup, handed out hand warmers and listened to stories of people wanting (and working for) a better nation. Smart people.
      As Iowans we appreciated their presence and energy and they appreciated the brownies and soup. Fair exchange.
      We were all cheated tonight.
      The democratic party here has always seemed like a black box only a favored few get to access. Unless we get a forensic reading of who, what, when, where, why (and where are the logs?) I would not suggest any right thinking politically inclined mammal give these folks another shiny toy to play with for long time.
      Idiot Out Walking Around (looking for precinct data) Bah.

    • Caucus confusion. Or something else?

      Just days before the caucuses, Iowa’s biggest paper spikes an Iowa poll that might have shown Sanders leading, and now technical problems reportedly prevent the Iowa Democratic Party from releasing results on caucus night.
      A definite stench arises from my native state.

      • I'm here in Iowa and don't smell any stench.

        I do see a giant dumpster fire of human and institutional error. And like many other Iowans, I’m angry and sad. For years, I’ve wanted the Iowa caucuses to be drastically changed or just replaced. But I sure didn’t want them to end like this, with good dedicated volunteers hurt and frustrated, Trump supporters gloating, and words like “chaos,” “disaster,” “mayhem,” and “meltdown” being used around the world.

        What happened in Iowa wasn’t fair to any of the candidates, including Sanders. But it certainly won’t be the end of his campaign.

      • Who spiked the poll?

        The Register did not conduct and did not spike the poll. The pollster doubted her own work. She had a reputation to protect. She spiked the poll. Maybe fewer people stayed home since they were thus not tipped off as to who would prevail. Polls are a two edged sword.

    • What Worked and Didn't

      Let’s be clear. 99 % of the caucus worked well, despite complicated rules. Thousands of volunteers and local democrats managed 1700 caucus sites and most were completed by 9:00 p.m. with complete counts to provide to the state party for entering and tabulating. Precinct chairs had about 12 numbers to report each (vote totals for the first round usually for 8 or so candidates who received votes and vote totals for 4 or so candidates in the final round). These then had to be entered into a spreadsheet and the results would be available (that spreadsheet can be seen on the Democratic party website).

      This is not a huge task and is very straightforward — the complicated stuff occurred at the caucus sites themselves. In previous years, there likely would have been a phone bank to collect phoned-in results and computers to enter them and make sure they were right. Results would have been reported periodically, but by 11:00 p.m. certainly all but a few sites would have been in.

      Instead, this year the state party relied on an app and its back-up was to call-in or text information. The app crashed and the call-in was not sufficient to handle calls nor was it able to enter the data when it got that information.

      This is not rocket science or some deeply complex process. What is particularly baffling is the time it has taken to put into place a back-up plan. At many points individual candidates had more complete and reportable information than the state party — and political pros certainly knew the general results and their implications — but they could not provide them because there was no official data from the party.

      Everyone leaving each precinct had been told the exact vote totals — no machine had to add up ballots. What could have been a model night for Democrats showing their deliberative and democratic decision-making process as efficient and well-managed
      turned into a fiasco.

      The results — which when finally reported will be entirely accurate — may also be tainted and not given the attention they deserve.

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