By Tyler Pager , Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou , and Jennifer Epstein
An attempt to modernize the arcane Iowa caucus system and make it more transparent melted down with the introduction of new technology and more complex rules. The Iowa Democratic Party was unable to release results from Monday’s caucuses after discovering “inconsistencies” in reporting from some precincts.
The party indicated results may be released sometime Tuesday but gave no firm timeline.
Pete Buttigieg effectively delivered his victory speech to supporters, saying, “By all indications we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.” Bernie Sanders’s campaign also released a ranking that showed Sanders at No. 1. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign said she outperformed Joe Biden for fourth place.
None of those results could be confirmed.
Electoral CredibilityThe foul-up occurred just days after the closely watched Iowa Poll canceled a Saturday release, saying, in effect, it couldn’t stand behind the results. And the controversy occurred against a backdrop of increasing worry about the credibility of electoral results, following Russian interference in Donald Trump’s election in 2016. It threatened to put a shadow over the final results, whenever they are announced.
The Iowa contest is the first in a long cycle of caucuses and primaries that stretches until June -- awarding just 1% of the delegates needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. But Iowa offers outsized momentum to its strong finishers as they head to New Hampshire a week away. Sanders leads the polls there comfortably, followed by Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Buttigieg.
The Iowa Democratic Party said there was no evidence of hacking in the results, merely human error and other inconsistencies that forced the party to resort to hand-counting the votes.
Warren’s campaign manager, Roger Lau, said the delay was concerning and disappointing. “Every second that passes undermines the process a little bit,” he said.
‘Full Explanations’Biden’s campaign was the most muted about its Iowa showing, preferring instead to issue a sharply worded letter from the campaign’s general counsel, demanding “full explanations and relevant information” about its quality control efforts and a chance to respond “before any official results are released.”
Biden, who had been leading in national polls but was struggling in Iowa, said he was moving on to the New Hampshire primary and beyond. “We’re in this for the long haul,” Biden told a crowd in Des Moines.
Trump’s campaign and his allies ridiculed the Democrats for the chaos and used it to try to stoke divisions among the candidates, suggesting the party was trying to “fix” the results. Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, called it “the sloppiest train wreck in history.”
“And these are the people who want to run our entire health care system?” he said in an email.
The disruption in the reporting is likely to accelerate calls for an end to caucuses. Only three other states -- Nevada, Wyoming and Kansas -- still use the caucus system in the nomination race as the national party has tried to shift states toward using primaries.
State party officials held a conference call with representatives of the campaigns and read a statement about the failures that had already been released, according to another person, who was familiar with the call. When campaign representatives began asking questions and expressed frustration, the Iowa Democrats abruptly ended the call, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In the earlier statement, Iowa Democratic Party Communications Director Mandy McClure said officials “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results.” She said that in addition to their technology systems, party officials also were using photos of results and paper records to verify the tallies.
“This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion,” McClure said. “The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.”
The Iowa Democratic Party went into the 2020 caucuses touting a series of reforms intended to make the process more fair, accountable and transparent.
The party developed a smartphone app to expand the online reporting of results from precincts to party headquarters. And there’s a paper trail of presidential preference cards filled out by each caucus-goer, allowing the party to re-create the results even after the caucus ends.
But the rule changes created chaos and confusion.
The delay in reporting results followed complaints from some local party officials that they were struggling to use the new telephone application to report tallies from precincts.
Read more: A QuickTake on how the Iowa caucuses work and what’s new in 2020
One precinct chair in Polk County told Bloomberg News he hadn’t been able to report his results because the phone app wasn’t working and he had been on hold with an alternative hotline for more than 30 minutes.
The application is one of the ways local officials who oversee individual caucuses are able to send results from each of the almost 1,700 sites to the Iowa Democratic Party, which compiles and checks the results.
Four Democratic county chairs told Bloomberg News earlier in the day that some precinct-level officials told them that they had been unable to download or log in to the phone app.
The party first used a smartphone application to report results in 2016, but before then, all results were submitted by phoning them in.
“A lot of us are going to be doing it on paper and calling it in,” said Kelcey Brackett, the chairman of the Muscatine County Democratic Party.
(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)
— With assistance by Gregory Korte, and Jennifer Jacobs