Some 72 hours later, we still don't know who won Iowa for sure, and that's because the process has been a clown show from beginning to end. If Democrats survive all this, the first thing that needs to go is the caucus process, period.
Results from the Iowa Democratic caucuses were delayed by “quality control checks” on Monday night. Days later, quality control issues have not been resolved.
The results released by the Iowa Democratic Party on Wednesday were riddled with inconsistencies and other flaws. According to a New York Times analysis, more than 100 precincts reported results that were internally inconsistent, that were missing data or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses.
In some cases, vote tallies do not add up. In others, precincts are shown allotting the wrong number of delegates to certain candidates. And in at least a few cases, the Iowa Democratic Party’s reported results do not match those reported by the precincts.
Some of these inconsistencies may prove to be innocuous, and they do not indicate an intentional effort to compromise or rig the result. There is no apparent bias in favor of the leaders Pete Buttigieg or Bernie Sanders, meaning the overall effect on the winner’s margin may be small.
But not all of the errors are minor, and they raise questions about whether the public will ever get a completely precise account of the Iowa results. With Mr. Sanders closing to within 0.1 percentage points with 97 percent of 1,765 precincts reporting, the race could easily grow close enough for even the most minor errors to delay a final projection or raise doubts about a declared winner.
The errors suggest that many Iowa caucus leaders struggled to follow the rules of their party’s caucuses, or to adopt the additional reporting requirements introduced since 2016. They show that the Iowa Democratic Party, despite the long delays, failed to validate all of the results fully before releasing them to the public.
Mandy McClure, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Democratic Party (I.D.P.), said the party reported the data as provided to it by the precinct caucuses.
“The caucus math work sheet is the official report on caucus night to the I.D.P., and the I.D.P. reports the results as delivered by the precinct chair,” she said. “This form must be signed by the caucus chair, the caucus secretary and representatives from each campaign in the room who attest to its accuracy. Under the rules of the delegate selection process, delegates are awarded based off the record of results as provided by each precinct caucus chair.”
Just about every election night includes reporting errors. They can be difficult to identify, but can often be corrected during a recount or a postelection canvass. This year’s Iowa caucuses are the reverse: Errors are now easy to identify, and hard to correct.
The errors are detectable because of changes to the way the Iowa Democratic Party reports its results, put in place after the Sanders campaign criticized the caucus results in 2016. This cycle, and for the first time, the party released three sets of results corresponding to different steps in the caucus process. The rules are complex and thorough, and they create conditions in which the results can be obviously inaccurate or inconsistent within a precinct.
First, caucusgoers express their preference for a candidate upon arrival, and these votes are recorded in a “first alignment.” Then, candidates with limited support at a precinct, usually less than 15 percent, are deemed not viable; their supporters get a chance to realign to support a viable candidate. The preference at this point is recorded as well, and it’s called the final alignment.
Viable candidates can’t lose support on realignment, but there were more than 10 cases where a viable candidate lost vote share in the final alignment, even though that is precluded by the caucus rules.
This was a mess, plain and simple. DNC Chair Tom Perez is demanding a recanvass and at this point doing so might make the situation worse for the reasons mentioned above.
What's not in any doubt though is that Joe Biden needs to hit the ground running in NH, NV, and especially in SC or Bernie Sanders will be the nominee.
Neither the disaster of the Iowa Democrats’ caucus app nor the reporting delays change the reality: The former vice president of the United States and the front-runner in nearly all the national and Iowa polls came in a distant fourth, behind Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren. Now he must struggle to reassert himself and hope for a magical underdog story (hey, Bill Clinton turned himself into the Comeback Kid after placing second in the 1992 New Hampshire primary). But forget about advertising and campaign staff: It’s now an open question whether Biden will have the cash to pay for his charter plane to fly him around the 14 Super Tuesday states that vote on March 3.
Running short on money is a big part of why he ended up here at all.
After a disastrous summer of fundraising, plans from the team in Iowa and other states would linger with national headquarters for weeks, then come back without approval for the spending being requested. Other candidates were quickly hiring staff—particularly Buttigieg, who in June had all of four staffers in the state but went into the caucuses with 170—while Biden’s team was under an almost complete hiring freeze. The campaign yanked its TV ads, leaving Biden dark for weeks and exponentially outspent in online advertising by Warren and Buttigieg, who soon had the rising poll numbers to show for it. At one point, aides realized, Biden was on track to spend less on TV in Iowa in this race than in his 2008 run, when he finished as an asterisk, with 1 percent of the vote.
Biden aides who were being honest with themselves knew for months that they were in trouble. Some didn’t want to believe it; some couldn’t. Others felt like they’d gotten into a taxi with a driver who was swerving all over the road, and they were just holding on and hoping they made it to the end.
They hoped that Democrats’ obsession with beating Donald Trump and voters’ sense of personal connection to Biden would pull them over the edge. Trump had blundered into his own impeachment out of fear that Biden was strong. Now they were hoping the impeachment trial would help make up for his weakness. “We might win this,” one person who worked on the campaign told me the week before the caucuses, “and it might come down to nothing we’ve done.”
When Biden held his final pre-caucus rally at a middle school in Des Moines on Sunday afternoon, 1,100 people came—his biggest crowd in Iowa of the whole campaign. Eight people introduced him; four retired senators were in the crowd. But by the time he began speaking, the Super Bowl had started, and people were dribbling out of the room. An hour earlier, a few miles away in a high-school gym, Buttigieg had drawn twice as many people.
Biden will make it through Super Tuesday, all the candidates will. Most will stay in through Big Tuesday at the halfway point of March. But after that? After that this might be a done deal for somebody other than Joe.