Iowa Democrats should not certify inaccurate caucus results

UPDATE: The State Central Committee voted 26 to 14 on February 29 to certify results with no further corrections. This post discusses the debate and vote over certifying in depth.

The Iowa Democratic Party has updated official results from the February 3 caucuses again, following a recount of 23 precincts specified by the Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg campaigns. The recount didn’t change the projected allocation of Iowa’s national delegates: fourteen for Buttigieg, twelve for Sanders, eight for Elizabeth Warren, six for Joe Biden, and one for Amy Klobuchar.

Revised delegate allocations in nineteen precincts left Buttigieg “ahead” of Sanders by 562.954 state delegate equivalents to 562.021, a small fraction of 1 percent of all delegates. It would be more meaningful to say Sanders and Buttigieg in effect tied on the delegate count, while Sanders had the largest number of supporters attending precinct caucuses.

Unfortunately, the recount didn’t address all the inaccuracies in the official results. Some of the errors scattered around the state affected neither Buttigieg nor Sanders. The Iowa Democratic Party has taken no steps to correct those mistakes, nor has it responded to Bleeding Heartland’s repeated questions about them.

Meanwhile, Zach Montellaro and Holly Otterbein reported for Politico on February 27 that the Sanders campaign will object to the revisions, on the grounds that Buttigieg should not have been able to ask for recounts of precincts where he was shortchanged.

Someone in this party needs to insist on accuracy for its own sake. Before some sixty members of the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee certify the caucus results at their February 29 meeting, they should insist on a broader review of the problems.

ONE PRECINCT STILL MISSING

We may never know how many people caucused in Des Moines County precinct 3, and for whom. The numbers for that precinct on the IDP’s official results page are identical to numbers from Winneshiek County precinct 3.

Ethan Corey and Daniel Nichanian have been pointing out for weeks that no one entered numbers from Des Moines County precinct 3 into the system. Corey spoke to a volunteer in the county who said that precinct had about 140 fewer caucus-goers than the official results (from the Winneshiek precinct) would suggest.

Bleeding Heartland flagged this issue in a post published on February 19. This week, I’ve repeatedly emailed IDP leaders trying to find out whether the party’s operating committee or SCC will direct someone to enter the proper numbers from Des Moines County precinct 3. I have received no reply whatsoever, not even “no comment.”

FEBRUARY 29 UPDATE: In separate telephone interviews, Des Moines County Democratic co-chairs DiAnne Lerud-Chubb and Tom Courtney told me they did not know why the results from this Burlington precinct still have not been posted on the results page. The packets and caucus math worksheets from all precincts were forwarded to the state party. Lerud-Chubb said there were 154 caucus-goers in the room.

According to Phoebe Kates, a caucus-goer and Warren volunteer in the precinct, the five delegates from Des Moines County 3 should have been allocated as follows: two for Buttigieg, one each for Warren, Sanders, and Biden. However, the precinct chair failed to call for a vote to ratify the results or vote for delegates to the county convention.

Both Lerud-Chubb and Courtney told me that their intention is to have delegates from that precinct seated at the county convention in March, despite the error on February 3.

Sandy Dockendorff, a former IDP Rules Committee chair who lives in Des Moines County, told me on February 29 that she had sent scanned copies of all caucus math worksheets from the county to state party officials. She did not understand why the results website would still be showing numbers from Winneshiek County. At this writing (10:25 am on February 29), the Winneshiek 3 numbers still appear on the Des Moines County precinct 3 line.

LATER UPDATE: IDP communications director Mandy McClure told me this precinct could not be corrected because it wasn’t flagged in time for the party’s review of precincts where published results did not match caucus math worksheets. Dockendorff disputed that account, saying the state party was told on February 4 about the discrepancy. Moreover, Dockendorff said that at one point the official results page did show correct numbers for Des Moines County 3. At some point, however, the published numbers reverted to the Winneshiek 3 totals.

I have confirmed that substituting the new results would not affect the state delegate equivalents for Buttigieg or Sanders. Buttigieg would still receive two county delegates (worth 0.72 state delegate equivalents), while Sanders would receive one county delegate (0.36 SDEs).

FAULTY MATH STILL EVIDENT

Corey noted on February 18 that five counties are still awarding too many delegates, indicating some errors at the precinct level.

Twitter user “Prodigy” identified the following “problem precincts” awarding too many delegates:

Then Prodigy went the extra mile to find seven precincts that appear to have awarded too few delegates:

An experienced precinct chair explained to me that due to the complexities of rounding rules, it is possible that some precincts might not be able to award all county convention delegates, even if they followed the IDP’s Delegate Selection Plan properly. In contrast, the precinct chairs who signed off on awarding too many delegates must have made some kind of mistake.

I’ve been asking this week whether there is a process for the party to investigate and correct these and other errors, whether SCC members or county chairs have been informed about the problems, and whether there is a way to fix them at the county conventions in late March.

Radio silence.

I was hoping new state party chair Mark Smith would insist on more transparency when observers have legitimate questions.

UPDATE: I am seeking clarification from the party on several anomalies in the recounted results, flagged by Nichanian and others, including Twitter user fathippy2.

In North Liberty 6 (Johnson County), what appeared to be a delegate allocation error (to Warren instead of Sanders) was corrected during the recanvass. However, during the recount, that delegate was taken away from Sanders and given back to Warren, even though the numbers show that on final alignment, Warren had 104 supporters and Sanders 107. That missing delegate accounts for about half of Sanders’ deficit in state delegate equivalents compared to Buttigieg.

In Jackson 10, final alignment numbers appear unchanged after the recount, and three candidates tied (Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg). The initial results had Sanders and Warren each getting a county delegate, but now Sanders and Buttigieg do. Did the precinct chair not conduct a proper game of chance on February 3? Did a new random draw happen during the recount phase?

In Bloomfield 3 (Davis County), a rounding error appears to give Sanders an extra delegate.

In Black Hawk X401, final expression numbers are 59 for Buttigieg, 56 for Warren, and 51 for Sanders. But the delegates went four each for Buttigieg and Warren and five for Sanders. How can that be?

It looks like the final alignment numbers after the recount in West Union Ward 3 (Fayette County) show a three-way tie for two county delegates. How did the recount committee handle the game of chance? It appears to have cost Sanders a delegate there.

LATER UPDATE: On the evening of February 28, I heard back from Mandy McClure, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party. I’ve enclosed below her response, which did not address several of my questions about specific precincts.

SANDERS DEMANDS WOULD MAKE RESULTS LESS ACCURATE

I had to laugh when reading tonight’s Politico story by Montellaro and Otterbein. Key excerpt:

Jeff Weaver, a Sanders campaign senior adviser, told POLITICO that the Vermont senator’s team was challenging the numbers. “We have already filed an implementation challenge with the DNC stating that the Iowa Democratic Party conducted its recanvass and recount in a way that violated their delegate selection plan,” Weaver said.

Weaver said the campaign’s challenge — which was filed with the DNC before the recount results were announced — argued that Buttigieg should not have been able to ask for a recount or recanvass. The Sanders campaign argued that state party’s delegate selection plan only allows for a recanvass or recount request if the request would change the allocation of a national delegate. They argued that Buttigieg’s recount request did not meet that criteria.

“Even if every precinct submitted for review by the Buttigieg [c]ampaign were changed in Mayor Buttigieg’s favor, it would not have altered the national delegation,” a letter from the Sanders’ campaign lawyers to the co-chairs of the DNC rules and bylaws committee and Iowa state Democratic Party Chair Mark Smith, which was seen by POLITICO, read. “Because [Buttigieg] did not — and could not — make a showing that the national delegation would be altered, Mayor Buttigieg’s request was deficient and should have been denied.”

The Sanders position is half-right. The IDP’s 2020 Caucus Recanvass and Recount Manual (enclosed below as Appendix 3) does state that presidential campaigns requesting a recount must provide “credible evidence” the recount could change the national delegate allocation. (When asking for a recanvass, the campaigns need only show “credible evidence” results “were misreported or erroneously counted in the jurisdiction.”)

So arguably, this hardball is fair game. Buttigieg could not have ended up with more than fourteen national delegates from Iowa, even if all of the recounted precincts had shifted slightly in his favor.

But step back for a minute and think about what the Sanders campaign is asking for. They want the Democratic National Committee to tell the Iowa Democratic Party that they should not have adjusted delegate totals where precinct chairs gave too few delegates to Buttigieg or too many to Sanders. If a precinct chair didn’t do the math right or made some other mistake applying the rules, so that delegates assigned didn’t reflect the preferences of caucus-goers, those errors should have been left alone forever.

Feel the people power!

WHAT NOW?

The IDP’s recanvass and recount manual states that only presidential campaigns can set those processes in motion. But the SCC has wide latitude as the party’s governing body. Earlier this month, the committee approved spending up to $50,000 for an “independent” audit of the 2020 caucuses. There has to be a way for SCC members to direct some group of people to review obvious problems, like the double reporting of Winneshiek 3 and the absence of results from Des Moines County 3.

Democrats would never find it acceptable if election officials purposefully left known errors in place, for lack of a formal recount request from a campaign. The party has collected presidential preference cards for all precincts, making it possible to reconstruct the views of voters who attended those caucuses. Using those cards to make the official numbers as accurate as they can be will honor the voices of Iowa Democrats, and perhaps maintain the party’s credibility as the DNC decides the future of the caucuses.

I’ll update this post as needed, if I hear back from IDP leaders on whether a plan exists to correct the errors remaining in the official results.

UPDATE: Iowa Democratic Party communications director Mandy McClure replied on the evening of February 28, “It appears that the spreadsheet you sent is out of date and contains precincts that had already been corrected on the website. The majority of the precincts you sent have been reviewed through the publicly reported processes — or are explained below, specifically regarding precincts that reported too many or too few delegates.” She went on:

The IDP is following the rules and processes for recanvassing, recounting, and certifying results as outlined in the Delegate Selection Plan and Recount/Recanvass manual. Those procedures do not provide a mechanism for the IDP to make further changes to math worksheet errors outside of the changes made during the official recanvass process.

On February 8, IDP initiated the process of reviewing 95 requested precincts and made corrections to 55 precincts where math worksheets did not match reported results before any official recanvass request was submitted.

On Thursday, February 13, the SCC passed a recommendation from the Recanvass/Recount Committee for the official recanvass to allow for corrections in instances where the caucus math is correct, but the rules were misapplied in the awarding of delegates to viable groups.

Given the recommendation exclusively applied to the official recanvass, the IDP is required to follow the standard DSP rules for any precinct outside of the official request — meaning the caucus math worksheets serve as the official records of results from requested precincts as signed by the precinct chair, secretary, and representatives of campaigns.

On February 18, IDP reported official recanvass corrections for 29 precincts, including 26 precincts where a misapplication of the rules affected delegate allocation, and 3 precincts where the reported final alignment did not match what was on the math worksheet. The remaining records of results that were requested for review were either accurately reported initially; corrected in the previous review; represent precincts electing a single-delegate from the caucus as a whole; or reflect math inconsistencies that are not covered under the SCC resolution.

On February 27, IDP reported official recount corrections for 19 precincts. The recount process is not a continuation of previously reported results. The Recount/Recanvass Manual requires the IDP to use the numbered Presidential Preference Cards as the exclusive record for determining attendance, viability, and delegate allocation at that precinct. Applying the caucus rules, the two-sided cards are used to recreate the movement in the room from caucus night. Any change in delegate allocation or tie-breaking situation that occurred as part of the recount is a reflection of the expressed preferences in that precinct as recorded on the completed Presidential Preference Cards. As stated before, campaign representatives were on site witnesses during the recount.

Regarding precincts with too many or too few reported delegates — refer to section 1.A.3.g.(2) in the DSP: “due to rounding, it is possible to apportion more or fewer delegates than the caucus is required to elect. In these cases, a group or groups may gain or lose a delegate depending upon the fractions that result when determining their share of delegates. A group may never lose its only delegate.”

McClure did not explain why Des Moines County precinct 3 is still missing or answer questions about some of the changes made during the recount (such as North Liberty 6 and Jackson 10).


Appendix 1: February 27 news release

Iowa Democratic Party Announces Results of Limited-Scope Precinct Caucus Recount
Updated results can be found at results.thecaucuses.org

DES MOINES — Today, the Iowa Democratic Party announced the results of the limited-scope recount requests from the Buttigieg and Sanders campaigns. The summary of results sent to each requesting campaign is attached. The results from the recounted precincts can be found here. The recount process resulted in no change to National Delegate allocation.

Over a two-day period beginning Tuesday, February 25, recount administrators recounted the Presidential Preference Cards from 23 unique precincts — including 14 submissions from the Buttigieg campaign and 10 submissions from the Sanders campaign, with one overlapping. As a result of the recount, county level delegate allocation changed in 19 precincts.

As part of the 2020 IDP Caucus changes, Presidential Preference Cards serve as a paper trail of attendance to be used as the exclusive record in the event of a recount. For each precinct, administrators counted the numbered cards to determine overall attendance and viability. Administrators then sorted the two-sided cards reflecting caucusgoers’ first and second preferences to recreate the movement in the room.

To be eligible for a recount, a campaign needed to provide evidence suggesting that caucus errors would change the allocation of one or more National Delegates. Members of the Recanvass/Recount Committee, Recount Administrators, staff appointed by the Administrators to assist, IDP legal counsel, and representatives of the Buttigieg and Sanders campaigns were on site to oversee the precinct recount.

Appendix 2: Iowa Democratic Party’s final Delegate Selection Plan for the 2020 cycle

Appendix 3: Iowa Democratic Party’s 2020 Caucus Recanvass and Recount Manual, version dated January 31, 2020

  • Our credibility?

    An accurate and public recount of every precinct would be an inherently good thing, but it won’t get our credibility back. That ship has sailed.

    We need to switch to a system where delegates aren’t allocated to precincts in advance, but are based on the number of Democrats who actually turned out to vote this year. We need to decide the result statewide with no wasted votes, rather than rounding off totals on a precinct-by-precinct basis. And we need proper paper ballots with candidates’ names on them. I think Democrats outside Iowa would probably say our credibility is going to wait on those changes.

    • Remember NH

      As soon as we turn to statewide votes, New Hampshire will call foul and move their primary ahead of our caucus. If’s OK to desire that, but don’t leave it out of your remedy.

      • Separate issue

        What I’ve proposed as a remedy, is a set of changes we can make within the confines of current Iowa law, see https://harrisoncountydems.org/2020/02/07/an-open-letter-to-the-chair-of-the-iowa-democratic-party-about-the-iowa-caucus/ for the whole list. Nominally, we’d still be doing a caucus, we’d just be reporting a more accurate result on the basis of one person one vote.

        Iowa’s first in the nation status is a separate problem, which the Democratic National Committee should solve ASAP, and would probably require substantial election law changes in multiple states. I think we should sort out the states by proportion of racial minority voters, and have the first Democratic Party primaries in the states at the top of that list. Iowa and New Hampshire would lose their first in the nation status, as they should.

    • Rounding works

      “An experienced precinct chair explained to me that due to the complexities of rounding rules, it is possible that some precincts might not be able to award all county convention delegates,”

      I’m also an experienced chair. I’d like to hear this explanation. There is nothing complex about rounding off, and no reason to come up short of delegates that I can imagine.

  • Sincere Thanks...

    ….for excellent reporting and follow up on the debacle. It looks as if IDP are certainly making the case that they can’t be trusted with responsibility. Again, in their effort to seem hip and cool (app) and sandbag Mr. Sanders, they blew themselves up (and any chances for Iowa to gain respect along with it.)
    Again, we appreciate your quest for truth.
    Any update on how your journalist credentials are being handled by statehouse Republicans?

    • Come again?

      How was this an effort to sandbag Sanders? It seems to me the whole plan to track preferences twice was an effort to satisfy Sanders who indeed kept bragging that he had more fans than Pete had at first blush even if he got fewer delegates. Those two campaigns have done Democrats a disservice by making a fuss over a virtual tie when only the first inning had ended and the ball game was just getting started.

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