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Conspiracy theories fly as Iowa Democrats still don't have results from chaotic caucus cluster

Conspiracy theories fly as Iowa Democrats still don't have results from chaotic caucus cluster
Image via Screengrab.

If you were hoping the Iowa caucuses would clarify the Democratic presidential primary … sorry. A small, overwhelmingly white state using an undemocratic system of voting was never going to reveal as much as cable news would have us believe, but instead of “not as much information as some pretend,” we got no reliable information Monday night and into Tuesday morning, with no clear word on when results would be released. Maybe later Tuesday.

The failure of an untested, hastily developed app that was supposed to be used to submit caucus results was a significant part of the problem, leaving the people trying to report results stuck on hold with an understaffed hotline for long periods. But the Iowa Democratic Party—denying problems with the app even as its own local leaders reported such problems en masse—said, “We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results.”

New statement from the Iowa Democratic Party: “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.”

Those three sets of results were the first alignment of caucus-goers before some candidates were eliminated as nonviable; the final alignment after the supporters of nonviable candidates shifted to second choices; and the state delegate equivalents, which had been the only result officially announced in previous years. After 2016, Bernie Sanders’ campaign had pushed for the reporting of more complete results, introducing greater transparency (in theory) but also greater complexity in a system in which local Democrats are counting people milling around crowded rooms. It’s almost like an election would have been a better idea, go figure.

Late Monday night, both Sanders and Pete Buttigieg declared victory, with Buttigieg delivering a full-on victory speech and the Sanders campaign releasing its own informal tallies from some precincts. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign was more cautious, telling reporters that “it’s close between Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg.” Even without full results—or even a substantial amount of results—it’s clear that Iowa was a disappointment for Joe Biden.

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said early Tuesday morning that he hoped to have results “later today” and that, yes, “This is taking longer than expected,” but “The system is in place to make sure we can report results with full confidence.” In other words, while the system has clearly been a mess, Iowa Democrats are taking their time to be sure that the results reported are at least accurate—better right than fast.

Meanwhile, conspiracy theories were flying. To respond to a couple of those in brief: The Iowa Democratic Party, not the Democratic National Committee, runs the caucuses. Former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook did not develop the app that failed. (Here’s what we do know about the app’s developer.) And this was neither orchestrated by the Buttigieg campaign nor a conspiracy to tank your chosen candidate.

If there’s one bright side to be had from this cluster, it’s that there will be renewed energy to dismantle the caucus system entirely. Even when well-run, caucuses limit voting to people with the time, resources, and health to spend hours on a Monday night standing or sitting on a school gym floor. It’s not democracy, and it has to go.

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