In the Iowa Democratic party’s chaotic attempt to report caucus results on Monday night, the results in at least one precinct were unilaterally changed by the party as it attempted to deal with the culmination of a rushed and imperfect process overseeing the first-in-the-nation nominating contest.
In Grinnell Ward 1, the precinct where elite liberal arts college Grinnell College is located, 19 delegates were awarded to Bernie Sanders and seven were awarded to Hillary Clinton on caucus night. However, the Iowa Democratic party decided to shift one delegate from Sanders to Clinton on the night and did not notify precinct chair J Pablo Silva that they had done so. Silva only discovered that this happened the next day, when checking the precinct results in other parts of the county.
The shift of one delegate at a county convention level would not have significantly affected the ultimate outcome of the caucus, but rather, it raises questions about the Iowa Democratic party’s management of caucus night.
The Iowa Democratic party had long been plagued with organizational issues around the caucus and failed to find hundreds of needed volunteers to oversee individual precinct caucuses just over a week before Monday. The result was a disorganized process that lent itself to chaos and conspiracy theories. Although Andy McGuire, the chair of the Iowa Democratic party, is a longtime Clinton supporter whose license plate once read HRC 2016, no one familiar with the issue has accused the error of being a partisan process. Instead, they have blamed simple mismanagement.
The party issued a statement early on Tuesday, detailing final delegate numbers that had Clinton winning the caucuses. However, the statement came shortly after party officials gave the impression to the Sanders campaign that no statement with results would be issued at all that night.
Instead, they were told “they would reconvene at 9am and let’s talk”. As of now, Clinton has a lead of just over two-tenths of a percent over Sanders in the overall apportionment of delegates in Iowa. This would equal an overall share of 23 delegates to the national convention for Clinton, to Sanders’ 21. The Iowa Democratic party has refused to audit the results.
The subject came up in Thursday night’s Democratic debate. Clinton expressed no opposition to the concept of an audit saying: “Whatever they decide to do, that’s fine.” Sanders was equally as relaxed. “Let’s not blow this out of proportion,” he said, adding,: “This is not the biggest deal in the world. We think, by the way, based on talking to our precinct captains, we may have at least two more delegates.”
On Thursday, the Des Moines Register said in an editorial that “something smells in the Democratic party”, lobbing an accusation of autocratic methods, for “the refusal to undergo scrutiny or allow for an appeal.
“The Iowa Democratic party must act quickly to assure the accuracy of the caucus results, beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Silva made clear the issue in Grinnell was merely the result of confusion over party rules in an anomalous situation.
The precinct, which is the largest in the state had 925 caucus-goers and the Iowa Democratic party’s formula for apportioning delegates was not capable of fully dealing with circumstances in such a large precinct, he said. This meant that when people left the course of the caucus process, the algorithm wasn’t capable of dealing with the shift in delegates.
As Silva explained it, the Iowa Democratic party’s formula for apportioning delegates left no method of dealing with one delegate in the precinct. Silva had anticipated this and sought clarification from a party staffer and laid out what seemed to be the correct method. When results were reported to the central reporting center in Des Moines, party staffers, who were able to adjust numbers reported in the much vaunted Microsoft app used by the Iowa Democratic party before they were released to the public, unilaterally made changes. And, as Silva noted: “They did it indirectly in my opinion.”
While Silva was grateful that he wasn’t called in the middle of the night about any issue, he was “kind of surprised” to see a result different than what he had reported the next day. Eventually, after lobbying both by Silva and former county chair Don Smith, they have received assurances that the delegate numbers for that precinct will be corrected. Smith explicitly told the Guardian that Iowa Democratic party executive director Ben Foecke had apologized to him over the unilateral action.
Sam Lau, a spokesman for the Iowa Democratic party, only told the Guardian about the situation: “We had been made aware of the concerns in this precinct, and we are in the process of reviewing them with local party leadership. We have received a small amount of flags from both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, and we are addressing each on a case-by-case basis by working with our county leaders.”