Buttigieg hangs on to narrow lead with 100% of precincts reporting

By: - February 6, 2020 1:40 pm

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg cheered and waved signs during a rally at Lincoln High School in Des Moines on Feb. 2, 2020. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

With 100 percent of Iowa’s caucus precincts finally reported on Thursday evening, Pete Buttigieg held on to the narrowest of leads over Bernie Sanders.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., had 564.02 state delegate equivalents or 26.2%.  Sanders, a Vermont senator, had 562.44 state delegate equivalents, or 26.2%.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was in third place with 18%; former Vice President Joe Biden in fourth with 15.8% and Sen. Amy Klobuchar had 12.3%.

Buttigieg reacted to the results at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire on Thursday, calling it “fantastic news to hear that we won.”

“I want to say that Senator Sanders had a great night too, and I want to congratulate him and his supporters,” Buttigieg said.

But the Sanders campaign also declared victory, based on the “popular vote” or caucusgoers’ first choice before realignment. And it also released a list of 14 “discrepancies” in reported results.

“Tonight’s release of data by the Iowa Democratic Party confirms Sen. Bernie Sanders won the Iowa caucus,” Sanders’ Senior Advisor Jeff Weaver said. “We also feel confident that the discrepancies we’re providing tonight, in addition to those widely identified in the national media, mean that the SDE count will never be known with any kind of certainty. Given the rules changes we fought for that required the release of the popular vote count, SDEs are now an antiquated and meaningless metric for deciding the winner of the Iowa caucus.”

Candidates must have 15 percent of the vote at a precinct in order to remain “viable.” Caucusgoers whose candidates are not viable can realign with other candidates. After the 2016 caucuses ended in a near-tie between Hillary Clinton and Sanders, the Democratic National Committee required Iowa to release raw vote totals from caucuses and not just the SDEs.

DNC chair called for recount before the first count was finished

But after three days of angst and recriminations over not only the timeliness but also the accuracy of the 2020 Iowa Democratic Party’s results, the counting may not be finished.

The chairman of the DNC on Thursday called for an immediate recanvass of all the returns.

With 97 percent of Monday’s caucusing results reported, DNC chairman Tom Perez tweeted, “Enough is enough. In light of the problems that have emerged in the implementation of the delegate selection plan and in order to assure public confidence in the results, I am calling on the Iowa Democratic Party to immediately begin a recanvass.”

With the 2020 Democratic Party caucus already teetering on the brink of irrelevance due to long delays in calculating the results, the New York Times reported Thursday that its review of the numbers already reported by the party had uncovered numerous errors and inconsistencies.

The newspaper reported that its analysis revealed “more than 100 precincts reported results that were internally inconsistent, that were missing data or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses. In some cases, vote tallies do not add up. In others, precincts are shown allotting the wrong number of delegates to certain candidates. And in at least a few cases, the Iowa Democratic Party’s reported results do not match those reported by the precincts.”

Perez issued his call for an immediate recanvassing after the Times published its report.

Typically, a recanvass is nothing more than another count of the overall vote. In this case, Iowa party officials would likely perform a manual audit of all the caucus worksheets and reporting forms to ensure that they were correctly calculated and reported from the beginning of the process to the end.

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price did not respond directly to the DNC’s request, but in a written statement, he said Iowa party officials are “fully committed to the integrity of the preferences expressed by dedicated, passionate, and fervent Iowa Democrats … Since the beginning of the process, we have taken unprecedented steps to gather redundant reports to ensure accuracy of all underlying data. The IDP is nearing completion in collecting redundant materials from all 1,756 precincts, including hand-collecting materials from all 99 counties which are securely stored in Des Moines.

“Should any presidential campaign in compliance with the Iowa Delegate Selection Plan request a recanvass, the IDP is prepared. In such a circumstance, the IDP will audit the paper records of report, as provided by the precinct chairs and signed by representatives of presidential campaigns. This is the official record of the Iowa Democratic caucus, and we are committed to ensuring the results accurately reflect the preference of Iowans.”

Candidates seem unwilling to force a recanvass

Sanders scoffed at the question of whether he would ask for a recount during a CNN town hall. ‘We’ve got enough of Iowa. I think we should move on to New Hampshire,” he told forum moderator Anderson Cooper. “It really did distress me because I went all over Iowa and the people there are really great people who take their responsibility of the first caucus in the country very, very seriously.”

He said it was “very sad” the Iowa Democratic Party “screwed up” the results but he said he won the “popular vote” — the first choice of caucusgoers — by 6,000 votes.  And, he said, he suspected he and Buttigieg would have the same number of delegates to the national convention at the end of the process.

Buttigieg also seemed reluctant to call for a recanvass. He told CNN:  “I’ll leave it to the party to get into that. But you know what I’ll say is nothing can take away what happened on Monday. Just an extraordinary moment for the movement that we have built and now we’re looking ahead to New Hampshire and beyond.”

The completion of the caucus count is only the beginning of Iowa’s fight to keep its status as the first nominating contest in the nation. On Thursday morning, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, described the Democrats’ caucus reporting as “a snafu.” She said a press release that she issued along with Iowa’s two Republican U.S. senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, is a “strong indicator that we do a lot of things right and we’ll continue to advocate to be the first-in-the nation caucus.”

She added, “I look forward to continuing to defend that position.”

Reynolds said reports of Trump supporters attempting to jam the phone lines that Democrats used to report results in the aftermath of the caucus was “absolutely false.  I mean, come on, it was the app that failed, so let’s start there.”

Obvious signs of trouble with the accuracy of the caucus data surfaced Wednesday afternoon when the Iowa Democratic Party released an update to its caucus results.

The update showed former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick winning 21 state delegate equivalents with 1,677 Iowans supporting him on the first alignment of caucusgoers. Apparently, some of Sanders’ votes were mistakenly credited to Patrick. At the same time, some of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s support was mistakenly credited to candidate Tom Steyer. The party corrected the errors before providing its next update.

Iowa Democratic Party officials has attributed the delay in producing results to newly developed software that it commissioned for the caucus. The software was largely untested, and when it failed, local party officials found themselves unable to report their results by phone due to busy signals or hour-long waits on hold.

The delay in announcing the caucus results denied the winning candidate – either Sanders or Buttigieg – some valuable momentum and press attention leading into next week’s New Hampshire primary. It has also triggered anger and frustration among the candidates, some of whom invested millions of dollars and a year of campaigning in the state.

Speaking to supporters in Concord, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden said, “Twenty-four hours later, they’re still trying to figure out what the heck happened in Iowa. At this rate, New Hampshire might get the first vote after all.”

On Wednesday morning, an exasperated Sanders spoke to supporters in Derry, New Hampshire, telling them, “I assume that one of these years that vote count will be completed.”

Businessman Andrew Yang called the delay in reporting an “avoidable error that shot the party in the foot.” He told New Hampshire voters Wednesday night, “You’re going to vote on Feb. 11, and guess when you’re going to find out the results?  February 11!”

Yang finished sixth with about 1% of state delegate equivalents.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.