Iowa vs. Technical Difficulties

Monday’s Iowa caucus was, in one word, a mess. What promised to be the most innovative and transparent caucus in history turned into a fiasco of a poorly executed app followed by campaigns trying to get out ahead of the results before they are finalized. 

Caucuses represent one of the truest forms of deliberative democracy in America. It allows citizens to come together in community centers and school gymnasiums for a night of conversation and decision-making. The issues that arose last night should not mar people’s opinions of the caucus system. It wasn’t the voters or the voting process, just technical issues with reporting. 

Last night demonstrated the democratic growing pains in an increasingly digitized society. The Iowa Democratic Party introduced an app for caucus chairs to use to report their precincts, but the app either did not work or could not be downloaded. There was a hotline for help but it was inundated with calls, leaving people waiting on the line for a long time. Currently, all the results are recorded and safe with the caucus chairs, but the Iowa Democratic Party is still in the process of aggregating the data. Campaigns have some internal reporting from volunteers and staff members present at precincts from all over the state, leading some candidates to put cart before the horse.

Iowa, although a small rural state with a small number of delegates whose population demographics hardly match the rest of the nation, is the groundhog of the primary election cycle. Victory in Iowa often serves as a prophecy for the outcome of the primary election as a whole, predicting who will get the nomination. Beyond winning, getting second or third, or even just doing better than people expected could help secure funding and enough momentum to make six more weeks (or more) of campaigning. 

In addition to the uncertainty of the results, the actions taken by Sanders, Buttigieg and their campaigns deeply frustrated me. As I write this article midday on Tuesday, February 4, results are still being recorded, yet somehow Pete has declared himself victorious both in front of a crowd at Drake University and on Twitter. Additionally, Sanders’ Senior Advisor Jeff Weaver has released the campaign’s internal reporting showing Sanders in first followed by Buttigieg, Warren, Biden, Klobuchar. Weaver stated, “The data below was collected by trained Sanders volunteers at representative precincts from all four congressional districts from a cross section of urban and rural parts of the state.” I do not think these candidates are intentionally making wild claims that are unfounded. Their internal data is probably accurate based on what is available, but premature declarations serve to undermine the Iowa state party and process to proceed without them. Voters are confused and want to know the results and campaigns should not exacerbate their confusion by going, what I consider, rogue. 

Someone reading this may pushback on my statements here saying, “You are only arguing this because you’re a Warren supporter and the data we have now does not look great for her.” My opinion has nothing to do with what this internal data shows. I would be mad at Warren if she did what Sanders and Buttigieg did. These early forecasts are invalid due to the ad hoc data being used to make the predictions. It is a tight race and I think it is only fair for every precinct to be reported before the politicking begins. Warren’s chief strategist, Joe Rospars, wrote on Twitter “Any campaign saying they won or putting out incomplete numbers is contributing to the chaos and misinformation.” I believe this is a very valid argument to make. This cycle’s Iowa caucus was supposed to be all about data. The state party was planning on releasing not just the final numbers out of each precinct but also the breakdown of the room before candidates were deemed nonviable and voters shifted to other camps. It was a promise of transparency through numbers and hard facts. But after technical difficulties with the reporting process, too many were quick throw data out the window in the hope of good press and momentum for New Hampshire. 

Everything that would’ve normally happened the day after the Iowa caucus will still occur. The results will be calculated and delegates will be awarded. Campaigns will spin their outcome in whatever way works best for them and pundits will kill airtime overanalyzing these spins. Still, this debacle has demonstrated two things. Firstly, modernizing our elections is not as easy as we hope it could be but I do not think we should give up on trying. The app, in theory, was a good solution for speeding up the reporting process. Secondly, what kind of leader Elizabeth Warren is. I am proud of my candidate for the position she took amidst this mess. We need a leader who does not jump to conclusions. Someone who eases uncertainty and can unite the party. Even if she comes in third or fourth in this caucus, I believe Warren proved herself presidential in Iowa.