Editorial: Iowa’s caucus mess

By Chicago Tribune

It was an election marred by missing votes, questionable tallies, tricky tactics, late reporting, disputed outcomes and demands for recounts. Is this Chicago? No, it’s Iowa.

The Iowa caucuses are supposed to be a quaint but inspiring example of American democracy at work. In the first contest of the presidential campaign, people gather with their neighbors in schools, churches and restaurants to debate, ponder and finally vote. But this year’s version, while not devoid of inspiration, left many voters and candidates feeling shafted.

On the Democratic side, the battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was agonizingly close, making every caucus important. But some of those in charge didn’t keep records of the votes and some of them didn’t call in the results on time. In a few caucuses, a tie vote was broken by – we are not making this up – a coin flip.


When the chair of the Monday night meeting in one Des Moines precinct realized Tuesday that its votes had not been transmitted and might decide the outcome, reported The Des Moines Register, he had to go home to retrieve his notes – only to discover that “he didn’t know who was logging the tallies. The party’s caucus hotline was no longer working. The party headquarters was locked.”

Campaign aides for Sanders, the runner-up by a razor-thin margin, demanded paper records to determine whether the results were tabulated correctly. That request prompted Clinton’s state director to accuse the Sanders team of having the chutzpah to “disparage results that don’t come out in their favor.”

But an editorial in The Register said, “What we can’t stomach is even the whiff of impropriety or error,” and it demanded “a complete audit of results.” Andy McGuire, chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said, “Asking for raw vote totals demonstrates a misunderstanding of our process. As does asking for a recount.”

Plenty of old-time Chicago ward bosses would have smiled at that assertion.

Republicans had their own mini-scandal. After CNN reported on caucus day that Ben Carson would proceed to Florida instead of New Hampshire, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a supporter of Ted Cruz, tweeted, “Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote.”

King’s claim likely allowed Cruz to capture some votes that would have gone to Carson – who explained that his Florida swing was to get fresh clothes before heading north to campaign. So after finishing a disappointing second, Donald Trump said, “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it.” Trump demanded that the vote be redone or the results nullified.

Cruz laughed off Trump’s complaint but apologized to Carson, whose campaign issued a statement saying, “These ‘dirty tricks’ political tactics are part of the reason Dr. Carson got into this race and reflect the ‘Washington values’ of win at all costs – regardless of the damage to the country – which he is trying to change.” Trump supporter Sarah Palin said her candidate had “opened so many eyes to the lies, corruption and total lack of accountability that come so naturally to the permanent political class.”


This is not the first time things have gone awry in the Hawkeye State. In the 2012 Republican caucuses, the initial count gave the win to Mitt Romney. A couple of weeks later, though, the state GOP announced that the actual winner was Rick Santorum – who by then had lost the chance to capitalize on his victory.

All these snafus have to be embarrassing to the people of Iowa, who treasure their special role in the election of presidents. The good news for them is that their job is done. The next round of voting is Tuesday, in New Hampshire. And by the time it’s over, no one will be talking about Iowa.


(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune

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