A simple fact about this year’s Democratic caucus in Iowa is that we will probably never know who really won the Democratic caucus in Iowa.
This afternoon, The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs highlights just one example of what a complete shitshow the caucus turned out to be:
In Grinnell Ward 1, the precinct where elite liberal arts college Grinnell College is located, 19 delegates were awarded to Bernie Sanders and seven were awarded to Hillary Clinton on caucus night. However, the Iowa Democratic party decided to shift one delegate from Sanders to Clinton on the night and did not notify precinct chair J Pablo Silva that they had done so. Silva only discovered that this happened the next day, when checking the precinct results in other parts of the county.
The reason for this delegate shift—which refers to Iowa’s lowest level of delegates (“county convention”) and not one of the 44 projected delegates actually awarded to the candidates—was relayed by Silva to Jacobs:
The precinct, which is the largest in the state had 925 caucus-goers and the Iowa Democratic party’s formula for apportioning delegates was not capable of fully dealing with circumstances in such a large precinct, he said. This meant that when people left the course of the caucus process, the algorithm wasn’t capable of dealing with the shift in delegates.
As Silva explained it, the Iowa Democratic party’s formula for apportioning delegates left no method of dealing with one delegate in the precinct. Silva had anticipated this and sought clarification from a party staffer and laid out what seemed to be the correct method. When results were reported to the central reporting center in Des Moines, party staffers, who were able to adjust numbers reported in the much vaunted Microsoft app used by the Iowa Democratic party before they were released to the public, unilaterally made changes. And, as Silva noted: “They did it indirectly in my opinion.”
This is pretty hard to parse, but basically the Iowa caucus system involves a series of estimates, which requires an algorithm, which couldn’t handle a sudden small change in a given precinct’s number of caucus goers, despite the fact that an algorithm really should be able to handle such a thing. The algorithm being overloaded meant that party staffers then had to go back and correct the math by hand, which resulted in one (rather meaningless) county convention delegate being moved to Hillary Clinton.
As Jacobs notes, what happened at Silva’s precinct did not significantly alter the caucus results. But it does highlight the absurdity of the caucus system, and a failure by the Democratic party to be prepared for a crucial night in the party’s future, even after a caucus in 2008 that featured the highest turnout in history.
The editorial board of the Des Moines Register excoriated the party in an editorial published yesterday under the headline “Something smells in the Democratic party,” essentially calling for a recount of the caucus results:
What happened Monday night at the Democratic caucuses was a debacle, period. Democracy, particularly at the local party level, can be slow, messy and obscure. But the refusal to undergo scrutiny or allow for an appeal reeks of autocracy.
The Iowa Democratic Party must act quickly to assure the accuracy of the caucus results, beyond a shadow of a doubt.
There has to be a better way to do this.