The Associated Press announced Tuesday morning that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had defeated Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Iowa Democratic Caucus by a tiny margin, 49.8 percent to 49.6 percent.
Although Clinton’s campaign had trumpeted her victory as early as 3 a.m., an examination of the process that was at work on Monday night suggests that Sanders’ appraisal of the race as a “virtual tie” is much more accurate.
When more than 170,000 Iowans showed up for caucuses throughout the state, some precincts were horrendously under-prepared.
The Sanders campaign accused the Iowa Democratic Party of failing to find precinct chairs to moderate 90 of the 1,683 precincts. The Iowa Democratic Party denied these claims and said that those chairs were still in the process of reporting the results.
As reported by the Des Moines Register, precinct No. 42 had no precinct chair until one of the roughly 400 attendees volunteered. The results of that precinct, the last one to report, weren’t finalized until nearly midday on Tuesday. The final count for equivalent delegates, which decide which candidate wins the state, was 699.57 for Clinton and 697.77 for Sanders.
With such a close outcome, the Sanders campaign asked the Iowa Democratic Party to release the “raw vote counts” — the popular vote — from Monday’s caucuses. The situation felt a lot like the 2000 election results between George W. Bush and Al Gore in Florida.
Reddit user “DBZ5episodesyelling” explained his experience at a caucus in Ames, Iowa. According to the Redditor’s story, the caucus chair proposed to move the caucus outdoors after a higher-than-expected turnout dangerously crowded the room. After a long-winded disagreement between the Clinton and Sanders precinct captains and the official precinct chair, the caucus was finally counted, nearly two hours after it began. By that point, several caucus-goers had left the room, hence influencing the results.
C-SPAN viewers pointed out what they saw as voter fraud during the channel’s coverage of a caucus in Des Moines held at Roosevelt High School. Sanders supporters counted up the number of caucus-goers in support of their candidate and reported their final number to the precinct chair. Clinton’s precinct captain, when asked about their final number, told the precinct chair that she didn’t count up all the Clinton supporters, instead simply adding the new ones that joined after the realignment period to their previous total from the first count.
When the Sanders precinct captain confronted her later, she switched her story and said that the Clinton supporters had done an official final count. A motion to recount the entire caucus, which the precinct chair claimed had to pass by a simple majority, failed and the caucus ended with a tiny victory for Clinton.
These are just a few on a laundry list of errors and ambiguities, some of which border on fraud, that tainted the Iowa Democratic Caucuses on Monday. One strange sight, which apparently falls in line with the official rules, occurred six times Monday night: a coin toss deciding who would win the extra delegate in a precinct. Clinton managed to win all six of these coin flips — a statistically improbable, yet possible outcome — on her way to winning the caucus statewide.
The Iowa caucus was fundamentally a disorganized, loosely regulated and semi-democratic mess.
Usually, the messiness of the process is concealed by the fact that the candidates have relatively clear majorities over one another. However, in the past two election seasons, mistakes in a hectic Iowa caucus have had a profound effect on the result and likely on the entire campaign as well. Bernie Sanders now has to deal with a bitter, yet promising, result.
In 2012, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s bid for the Republican nomination was derailed by the announcement of Mitt Romney’s victory, even though Iowa Republicans later discovered Santorum had won.
Regardless, the most important nominating contest in the United States shouldn’t be decided by a broken system that limps on in the hopes that it won’t have to work properly or accurately.
Technically, Hillary Clinton won Iowa Monday night by two-tenths of a percentage point. However, an honest look at the inner workings of the process shows that the Iowa Democratic caucus is incapable of the precision required to accurately determine the winner of a race this close.
At this point, any reports of a victory from either side would be disingenuous in light of the facts. I’ll call this one a draw, but I think it’s a solid loss for the spirit of a fair and representative democracy that a backwards system with arcane rules denied us the clarity of a real winner.
Alex Storer is a contributing columnist for the Central Florida Future.