‘They screwed it up badly’: Caucus troubles continue as delegates are awarded, a recanvass is expected and bad math is defended

Kids occupy themselves in the City High cafeteria on Caucus Night. Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Update: On Monday, the requests for partial recanvasses for both the Sanders and Buttigieg campaigns. The Sanders campaign requested a recanvass of 28 precincts, and Buttigieg wants a recvanvass of 66 precincts. The Iowa Democratic Party has posted a list of those precincts online.

A week after the Iowa Caucus, its outcome is still uncertain, but that didn’t stop the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) from announcing the projected number of delegates to the Democratic National Convention each candidate won in the Feb. 3 caucus.

Pete Buttigieg, who had the second-highest number of supporters in the caucus, was awarded the largest number of national delegates by the IDP. The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana will have 14 of the 41 available delegates Iowa sends to the national convention.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had the most supporters in the caucus, was awarded 12 delegates.

The number of supporters and the number of delegates awarded coincide for the other three candidates who received delegates.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren finished third, with eight delegates. Joe Biden will have six national delegates and Sen. Amy Klobuchar received one.

Seven more candidates were included in the IDP tally — Sen. Michael Bennet, Michael Bloomberg, John Delaney, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Deval Patrick, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang — did not have enough support to qualify for delegates.

The IDP awards national delegates on the basis of state delegate equivalents (SDEs), and party rules give small, rural precincts — where Buttigieg did best — more SDEs to award per number of participants than in larger precincts, where Sanders was strongest.

In its written statement announcing national convention delegates had been awarded, the IDP said it had “updated results for 55 precincts, accounting for 3% of the total 1,765 precincts.” It was the latest of what IDP has called “quality control” actions for the caucus results.

It was not, however, enough to make the Associated Press change its mind about calling a winner. The AP, which other news organizations have relied on for accurate election results for decades, said last week it would not declare a winner because of a “tight margin between former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders and the irregularities in this year’s caucus process.”

According to an AP story published after the IDP’s update results/national delegates statement, “The Associated Press remains unable to declare a winner because it believes the results may not be fully accurate and are still subject to potential revision.”

Rockne Cole hands out presidential preference cards at City High. Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. –Zak Neumann/Little Village

The AP also reported that Sanders’ campaign will ask for a partial recanvass of the caucus results. A recanvass reviews the results listed on the caucus precinct worksheets, but does not go as far as a recount, which would examine the presidential preference cards filled out by caucus participants.

“The potential recanvass would further extend a process already clouded by uncertainty,” the AP noted.

It’s unclear how any problems that might be discovered in precincts would be used to correct the official results. On Saturday, the New York Times reported on an internal IDP email sent by IDP Chair Troy Price, in which Price said the party’s attorney had advised “The incorrect math on the Caucus Math Worksheets must not be changed to ensure the integrity of the process.” Although mathematics is typically thought of as objective, the party attorney feels that correcting math errors would introduce “personal opinion” into the reporting process, according to the email.

Multiple errors on the precinct worksheets were reported by news organizations over the weekend.

Daniel Nichanian, editor of The Appeal: Political Report, and The Appeal’s fact-checker Ethan Corey has been examining caucus precinct worksheets and comparing their results with the IDP’s official reported results. Nichanian and Corey have been tweeting out many apparent discrepancies and errors.

In a lengthy story published on Sunday, the Times reported, “at least 10 percent of precincts appeared to have improperly allocated their delegates, based on reported vote totals. In some cases, precincts awarded more delegates than they had to give; in others, they awarded fewer. More than two dozen precincts appeared to give delegates to candidates who did not qualify as viable under the caucus rules.”

The Times story also looked at how the 2020 Democratic caucus “crumbled under the weight of technology flops, lapses in planning, failed oversight by party officials, poor training, and a breakdown in communication between paid party leaders and volunteers out in the field, who had devoted themselves for months to the nation’s first nominating contest.”

Although it added new details, the story didn’t include any new reasons for the failure. The main reason was already known last week: The app the IDP bought for precinct leaders to report results had not been subjected to a statewide test before caucus night, and failed in more than one way. It was difficult for many precinct leaders to download and install, it was difficult to use when installed and when it was used “successfully” it still didn’t transmit all the needed data.

Johnson County Democrats caucus at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area in Iowa City. Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The back-up option for reporting results, a toll-free phone number, wasn’t adequately staffed to handle the influx of reports. It was also the target of rightwing internet trolls, who were seeking to disrupt the caucus by tying up the phone lines.

Appearing on CNN, Sanders said on Sunday, “All I can say about Iowa is, it was an embarrassment. It was a disgrace to the good people of Iowa who take their responsibilities in the caucuses very seriously. They screwed it up badly, that is what the Iowa Democratic Party did.”

The Vermont senator also repeated his assertion that he should be considered the winner of the Iowa Caucus.

On Caucus Night, before any results were published by the IDP, Pete Buttigieg claimed to be “victorious” in Iowa.

According to polling, Sanders and Buttigieg are the leading candidates in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. If the Sanders campaign does seek an Iowa Caucus recanvass, it’s likely the primary results in New Hampshire will be known before the results of the recanvass are known.

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