DES MOINES, Iowa -- Has the Hanging Chad become the Hung-Up App?
In 2000, the site of poll workers evaluating whether "hanging chads" from paper ballots would be counted in the Florida presidential contest became a defining metaphor for the closeness of the election of George W. Bush over Al Gore.
In Iowa, in 2016, the closeness of the Democratic presidential caucuses has been underscored by stories throughout the state that the Microsoft application that precinct chairmen used to report results was experiencing delays, prompting the state party to enlist the campaigns to help track down the tallies in 90 precincts, or roughly 5 percent of the vote. On Tuesday, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press declared former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the winner of the caucuses over Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and former Gov. Martin O'Malley. But the previous 12 hours were a torturous process for the party, as officials struggled to run down the results and to counter questions about the integrity of the process and the competence of those running it.
The numbers separating the two are miniscule. The party said Clinton would be awarded 700.59 delegate equivalents and Sanders 696.82 delegates. That prompted the Sanders campaign to call for the party to release the results of the popular vote and vows that it would take a close look at the process.
"Under any election anywhere, when you have a .2 margin, it demands we take a look and make sure there are no errors, that no "2s" were entered as "5s," that kind of thing. So we are canvassing," Sanders state director Robert Becker said Tuesday afternoon.
Both state parties partnered with Microsoft on an app to help streamline the process and cut down on the delays that have long plagued the first-in-the-nation caucuses.
Iowa Democratic officials pushed back on suggestions that the app didn't deliver and that delays accounted for Monday night's problem with getting all precincts accounted for.
"That's not accurate. The results were placed on our website after they were reported to our HQ by our precinct chairs and verified by our staff. A majority of our chairs used the app to report their results last night. We saw lots of excitement and enthusiasm around the state for our new reporting app," state party spokesman Josh Levitt said in an email to Roll Call.
At 2:30 on Tuesday morning, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Andy McGuire released a statement that declared Clinton the winner, which the Clinton campaign trumpeted. But at that point, not all the precincts had been accounted for, and Sanders campaign officials were predicting that nothing was settled yet. Becker said that is still the case, despite the party's assurance that all votes have been counted.
Acknowledging he had received "about 500 press calls," and was headed into a late afternoon meeting to discuss the way forward, Becker said simply, "There's quite a bit going on."
If Republicans in the state were delighting in the Democratic snafus, they were not letting on in public. There were a few delays reported on social media about the app precinct officials used, but no one has questioned the count.
Four years ago, the Iowa Republican Party experienced its own caucus debacle when it declared former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the winner on caucus night by a narrow eight-vote margin. Then it had to retract that declaration a few days later after a certified count of the results revealed that former Pennsylvania Gov. Rick Santorum had won by 34 votes. Officials noted at the time that they called the race too soon, but the episode was an embarrassment for the party.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate was quick to point out that the parties are responsible for the caucuses, not his office.
— Iowa Sec. of State (@IowaSOS) February 2, 2016 "Seeing allegations of fraud relating to #iIowaCaucus. I hear u. But plz realize @IowaGOP & @iowdemocrats run caucus. NOT official election," Pate's office tweeted on Tuesday. He later added on Twitter that he would forward any and all concerns about fraud or irregularities to the two parties.
Now, as the presidential contest moves on to New Hampshire and beyond, the parties have four more years to address concerns and ensure Iowa's quirky process retains its iconic status. As one of his first orders of business Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., decried what he said was Iowa's outsized role in nominating presidential candidates. Speaking to reporters after the parties' policy lunches, Reid, who is retiring after the 2016 elections, said, "It’s really I think a system. I don’t see it changed tomorrow, but it’s kind of a not very good system to have for decade after decade, Iowa and New Hampshire meaning so much when it has no recognition of what America’s all about as far as diversity and wide-ranging economic issues.”
Reid helped establish Nevada as an early nominating state eight years ago, and has held his state up as an example of the type of diverse place that should have a bigger role in selecting nominees. The state's Democratic caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 20, and the GOP caucuses are Feb. 23.
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