All the months of endless televised debates, campaigning and fundraising led up to the Iowa caucuses, which is the first election in the presidential primary race. Every election cycle, presidential candidates place their focus on Iowa, spending millions in advertisements and hiring volunteers to knock on doors — whatever it takes to win the Hawkeye state. Iowa, a small Midwestern state, is not logistically a “must-win” for Democratic candidates. It is only worth 41 out of the 1,991 delegates the nominee needs at the Democratic convention in July.
However, a win in Iowa means mass media coverage and a spike in donations that would help create the momentum and energy needed to win the next primary states: New Hampshire and Nevada.
In the past, Iowa has revitalized certain candidates’ campaigns while winnowing out the weaker ones. 2008 is a prime example; Iowans came out to vote in unprecedented numbers for Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton, thus making his electability suddenly seem viable to voters nationwide. This year, the Iowa caucuses took place on Monday, Feb. 3 in 1,678 precincts, but the full results of the election have yet to be released by the DNC as a result of “quality control,” raising suspicions among Americans across the entire country.
The chaos of the 2020 Iowa caucuses originated with the DNC’s plan to introduce a smartphone app that would supposedly be an easier and faster way to report the caucuses results. Unlike a primary, where Democrats would vote by casting a ballot, caucus-goers have to vote publicly in big groups. Essentially, people attend caucuses in different locations statewide, where they cast their vote by standing with others who support their favorite candidate as the precinct captains conduct head counts.
In order for the candidate to be viable to move on to the next round, they must receive at least 15 percent of the vote at any particular precinct location. People in the groups that do not meet the 15 percent threshold have the option of joining a group that was viable, or they can choose to go home. In order to simplify the process and avoid errors in reportings, the DNC’s app would allow precinct captains to report their tallies and then send those results to the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) headquarters.
Questions about the legitimacy of the app were raised even prior to the caucuses, as many precinct captains reported that there was no required training on how to navigate the app. As reported by David Jefferson, who serves on the board of Verified Voting, to the New York Times, “This app has never been used in any real election or tested at a statewide scale, and it’s only been contemplated for use for two months now.”
The app was also running into problems before it was launched, with many local precinct chairs revealing that the app was not downloading or was crashing frequently. Regardless of the complaints, the DNC commenced with the caucuses on Monday night, which halted to a stop after only a couple hours.
Chaos ensued as precinct captains were unable to submit their local results using the app and hopelessly turned to backed-up phone lines to report final tallies instead. Captains waited on the phone for hours on end, which resulted in many of them leaving their caucus sites without reporting the results. IDP Communications Director Mandy McClure then released a statement saying, “We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results. In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report.” Following the statement, the IDP pulled down any existing polls for an in-depth reevaluation of votes.
Monday night, Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale released a statement responding to the incident, stating, “Democrats are stewing in a caucus mess of their own creation with the sloppiest train wreck in history. It would be natural for people to doubt the fairness of the process. And these are the people who want to run our entire health care system? President Trump posted a record performance in the well-run GOP Iowa caucuses with record turnout for an incumbent.” Based on Parscale’s statement along with other tweets from Trump, the disaster in Iowa sets the stage for the incumbent’s reelection argument later on during the general election.
In the time since the app crash, more information has come to light that questions the election’s legitimacy. The app company, Shadow Inc., was cofounded by Niemira and Krista Davis, both former workers on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. In 2019, Democratic nonprofit ACRONYM acquired Shadow Inc. as a part of its mission to run more efficient elections. ACROYNM’s CEO and founder Tara McGowan is married to Michael Halle, who happens to be Buttigieg’s chief adviser and former Hillary head Iowa organizer. In July 2019, Buttigieg paid around $42,500 to the firm for software rights and subscriptions.
There is much speculation over why the Buttigieg campaign has such close connections to the app developer in charge of one of the most significant elections for the Democrats. Mayor Pete’s early victory speech Monday night did not help his cause as #MayorCheat began to trend immediately on Twitter. Buttigieg said in a late Monday night speech to Iowans, “We don’t know all the results, but we know, by the time it’s all said and done, Iowa, you have shocked the nation, because by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”
At the time of Buttigieg’s speech, zero percent of precincts had officially reported their data. It was not until 5 p.m. EST the following day that the IDP released around 62 percent of precinct data to the media. By 11 p.m., around 70 percent of the results were released. Based on those reports, Sanders led the popular vote, but Buttigieg had a slight lead with delegates at 26.8 percent in comparison to Sanders’ 25.2 percent. Both were set to win 11 delegates in the state of Iowa. Following the virtual tie was Elizabeth Warren at 18.4 percent, Joe Biden at 15.4 percent and Amy Klobuchar at 12.6 percent.
Already, conflicts have emerged about the results. The previous night, former VP Joe Biden started raising questions about the results and claimed they were fraudulent, requesting them to be recounted. As the IDP results started to unfold, Biden has since seemed to move on and is now focused on winning New Hampshire and Super Tuesday states. At the same time, Sanders’ internal polling conducted by his Iowa volunteers in 40 percent of the precincts showed him in first place at 28 percent, followed by Buttigieg at 21 percent, Warren at 19 percent, Biden at 15 percent and Klobuchar at 11 percent. The inconsistencies cannot yet be confirmed until the final results come in, which are very likely to sway the vote in favor of Sanders, who led earlier polls released by Emerson and CBS.
Regardless of who won the Iowa caucuses, the victor was deprived of the proper media coverage they deserved, as the eventual results will be inevitably be lost in the next news cycle focusing on President Trump’s State of the Union Address and the impeachment trial. Since the lack of results does not reveal any clear winners and losers, New Hampshire is positioned as afresh start to the 2020 presidential race. For now, lower polling candidates like Biden and Klobuchar can remain in the pack, hoping to outperform expectations in the following states. In the end, however, the Democratic Party’s inability to hold a successful election in such a small state has also ultimately failed the American people, undermining their faith in the democratic process of voting.