One irregularity after the other really brings into question how the Iowa caucus was conducted by the Iowa Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
- Gold standard poll called off
The fact that the “famously accurate” Selzer/DMR poll was called off, at the behest of Pete Buttigieg, on the eve of its announcement, raised many eyebrows. The leaked results show Sanders in the lead with 22%, followed by Warren, Buttigieg and Biden (the last at 13%)
- Last-minute caucus location changes
The last-minute caucus location changes did not exactly inspire confidence in the process, especially when the party had voter registration data well in advance to predict expected turnout.
- Faulty results, low reporting precincts
The error-based low reporting of precincts in the name of “results”, formed the core of the entire caucus night’s TV coverage as well as that of the next day along with digital and print media, that declared a winner despite knowledge of the software delegate returns being inaccurate, which was quietly reported separately. The Des Moines Register’s faulty partial results are still available on their results page, as of this article’s publication.
- Fake declaration of victory
It enabled an unlikely candidate such as Pete Buttigieg to prematurely declare victory based on faulty results and his own likely-biased data. He was forced to rescind the declaration the next morning, but media did little to correct the initial story or cover the latter. Later, based on release of partial results, Buttigieg and Sanders both netted 11 delegates each, so it was clearly no victory for the mayor of South Bend.
- Relative results lower than polling
The faulty results showed Sanders doing lower than actual polling showed – the last three recent polls had him up by 7 points each. Some of it maybe can be attributed to the undecided segment splintering into various candidates.
- No exit polls
The fact that there were no exit polls, makes the caucus process and results a lot more unverifiable, given the lack of communication over precinct results during caucus time. Entrance polls covered demography and polled voters on topics such as issues, presidential primary preference was just one question. Entrance polls are also limited in the sense that voters unwilling to disclose preferences can mark themselves as undecided, while exit polls don't have an undecided category. Lastly, statewide entrance polls are not indicative of the outcome at the precinct level, where many supporters shift their support on the first and second votes if their candidate is not viable in that particular polling location. It is rare that a precinct result matches the statewide result.
- No accurate turnout numbers released
The fact that at the moment of caucuses closing, there were no turnout numbers released (only estimates) makes the process appear more suspect.
- Caucus-goers forced to go home before results transmitted
Caucus-goers were made to go home at the end of caucus time before a final call was taken on results and result estimates, leaving the documentation back in the caucus location with the poll workers, but expelling all voters from the location before the results were ratified, verified and announced. The gap between voters leaving and the transmission/announcement of results makes one wonder if fewer people are organized to object at the time of announcement, would it help rig the process, reducing verifiable transparency again? Another fear is the rigging of reported reassigned votes on second count. The scope for paper trail tampering increases sharply.
- Delay of results
The delay of results itself is suspect because the Democratic Party confirms a paper trail for relay of results. Even the "paper trails" didn't help speed up the announcement of results.
- Jammed phone lines
The phone lines to the Iowa Democratic Party (the backup results reporting plan) office were jammed, and the fact that many results were not successfully reported till voters left, also leaves a lingering scent of foul play.
- Caucus result reporting software and conflicts of interest
Finally, we come to the caucus software itself. The Democratic Party-aligned company ACRONYM contracted the production of the app for the precinct captains, to “Shadow”, which was partly funded by Pete Buttigieg’s campaign - $43,000 approximately. The Iowa Democratic Party and the DNC claim that the reporting precinct results function was fine on the app but the allotment of delegates statewide function had an error - likely false. It is worth noting that the companies Shadow and ACRONYM, were started up by Clinton campaign veterans, including Hillary 2016 campaign manager Robby Mook. Gerard Niemira, who served as Hillary Clinton’s director of product during her 2016 campaign, is currently the CEO of Shadow.
There is, however, no evidence of Mook’s direct involvement in the development or running of the app, though his company (Defending Digital Democracy) was given the contract for verifying/vetting the app’s integrity. The ACRONYM company's CEO, CTO and COO, among others, all previously worked for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, David Plouffe from the Obama team also joined ACRONYM’s board of directors, and the founder/CEO of ACROMYN Tara McGowan is married to a top Buttigieg advisor.
However, the Sanders campaign had also prepared an app for reported results by Sanders campaign precinct captains, clearly instructing them to report accurately, and the results were far, far apart from the results reported in the media and through the app developed by Shadow. So, by the luck of foresight, the Sanders campaign and voters have a chance to challenge the results declared by a faulty app developed with Buttigieg funding and DNC negligence.
UPDATE: So after an entire day, the Iowa Democratic Party released partial results, at 62% precincts reporting, with next to no county reported completely. These results stayed stuck at 62% for the rest of the day. Interestingly, they showed Sanders with a lead in the popular vote and Buttigieg with a slight lead in state delegate percentages (26.9% vs Sanders' 25.1% - 11 delegates each, Warren with 5, rest with 0). Incidentally enough, the counties and precincts where Pete Buttigieg was leading were over-represented in the partial result announcement, and the precincts where Sanders was leading were disproportionally left out of the estimate.
Will we ever know the true results, and will they be officially ratified? Who knows.
The author is a PhD researcher in Modern and Contemporary History at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.