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Democrats Promise Iowa Results Tuesday in Bid to Save Caucus

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 2/4/2020 Tyler Pager and Jennifer Epstein

(Bloomberg) -- Iowa Democrats will finally release most of the much-delayed results from their troubled caucuses by 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, hoping to salvage the process after a disastrous night cast doubts on its key role in the presidential nominating process.

State party chairman Troy Price told the campaigns on a conference call that more than 50% of the results would be released after the party “worked through the night” to check the quality of its tabulation and to collect any outstanding data.

On Monday night, the caucuses that were meant to give shape to the Democratic presidential race devolved into political embarrassment for the party and left candidates and voters hanging with no results and no springboard into the next round of contests, including New Hampshire’s primary in seven days.

The top Democratic candidates, except Joe Biden, claimed strong showings using their internal analysis. Biden’s campaign didn’t have the organization in place to collect the data, an emblem of his struggling effort in Iowa.

One candidate who didn’t compete in Iowa, Michael Bloomberg, moved to capitalize on the chaos by authorizing his team to double his already record spending on advertisements and doubling his field staff to 2,000 people, the New York Times reported. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

The chaos in Iowa began when an attempt to modernize the arcane caucus system and make it more transparent melted down with the introduction of new technology and more complex rules. The Iowa Democratic Party said it was unable to release results from Monday’s caucuses after discovering “inconsistencies” in reporting from some precincts.

Partial Returns

Biden’s campaign expressed concern on the state party’s conference call about the plans to release partial returns.

But Sanders’ senior adviser Jeff Weaver responded that the party should release results as they’re available and that only campaigns that fared badly -- implying Biden’s -- wanted a delay.

“In the interest of not discrediting the party, the folks who are just trying to delay the return of this because of their relative positioning in the results last night, I think that’s a bit disingenuous,” Weaver said.

After virtual silence on Monday night, the state Democratic Party said Tuesday morning that it had identified a flaw in the phone application used to report results that led to the failed vote tabulation.

“We determined with certainty that the underlying data collected via the app was sound,” Price, the state chairman, said in the statement. “While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data. We have determined that this was due to a coding issue in the reporting system. This issue was identified and fixed.”

The party’s clean-up efforts are unlikely to quiet critics.

An official with Biden’s campaign confirmed that his team had previously used services from the vendor that created Iowa’s failed app, but stopped because its IT team expressed security concerns. However, the campaign didn’t use the specific app that the Iowa Democratic Party adopted.

Earlier Tuesday, Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, said in a Fox News interview that the federal department had offered to review the Iowa Caucus app, but the offer was rebuffed.

Read More: How Multiple System Failures Produced Debacle in Iowa Caucus

In the void, several campaigns leaked unverified internal campaign data -- submitted by their own precinct captains -- to claim a strong showing.

Pete Buttigieg effectively delivered his victory speech to supporters, saying, “By all indications we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.” Bernie Sanders’s campaign also released a ranking that showed Sanders at No. 1. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign said she outperformed Biden for fourth place.

None of those results could be confirmed.

Electoral Credibility

President Donald Trump on Tuesday morning claimed on Twitter that he was “the only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night,” referring to the Republican caucuses where he easily triumphed. He called the Democratic results “an unmitigated disaster.”

The Iowa contest is the first in a long cycle of caucuses and primaries that stretches until June -- awarding just 1% of the delegates needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. But Iowa offers outsized momentum to its strong finishers as they headed to New Hampshire a week away. Sanders leads the polls there comfortably, followed by Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Buttigieg.

The Iowa Democratic Party said there was no evidence of hacking in the stalled reporting of results, merely human error and other inconsistencies that forced the party to resort to hand-counting the votes.

What happened was that the state party deployed a new phone app for precinct chairmen to report results at the same time it deployed a new system for tabulating winners. Both appear to have failed.

Precinct chairmen found it difficult to use the app and instead resorted to calling a hotline. The hotline got so jammed up that they were waiting for 30 minutes or more for someone to answer. Then the party reported there were “inconsistencies” in the count and decided to withhold announcing results until at least Tuesday.

‘Full Explanations’

Biden’s campaign was the most muted about its Iowa showing, preferring instead to issue a sharply worded letter from the campaign’s general counsel, demanding “full explanations and relevant information” about its quality control efforts and a chance to respond “before any official results are released.”

Biden, who had been leading in national polls but was struggling in Iowa, said he was moving on to the New Hampshire primary and beyond. “We’re in this for the long haul,” he told a crowd in Des Moines.

Trump’s campaign and his allies ridiculed the Democrats for the chaos and used it to try to stoke divisions among the candidates, suggesting the party was trying to “fix” the results. Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, called it “the sloppiest train wreck in history.”

“And these are the people who want to run our entire health care system?” he said in an email.

The disruption in the reporting is likely to accelerate calls for an end to caucuses. Only three other states -- Nevada, Wyoming and Kansas -- still use the caucus system in the nomination race as the national party has tried to shift states toward using primaries.

The Iowa Democratic Party went into the 2020 caucuses touting a series of reforms intended to make the process more fair, accountable and transparent.

Read More: Biden Digs Deep Into Wall Street Rolodex to Brace for Fight

There are now three sets of results reported, allowing greater visibility into who participants supported in the first and second rounds, as supporters of candidates who don’t meet a 15% threshold are given a chance to join with backers of other candidates.

The party developed a smartphone app to expand the online reporting of results from precincts to party headquarters. And there’s a paper trail of presidential preference cards filled out by each caucus-goer, allowing the party to re-create the results even after the caucus ends.

But the rule changes created chaos and confusion.

The delay in reporting results followed complaints from some local party officials that they were struggling to use the new telephone application to report tallies from precincts.

a group of people standing around a table: Democrats Caucus In Iowa As The 2020 Presidential Nominating Process Begins© Photographer: Tom Brenner/Getty Images Democrats Caucus In Iowa As The 2020 Presidential Nominating Process Begins

Officials from the 68th caucus precinct overlook the results of the first referendum count during a caucus event at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa on Feb. 3.

Photographer: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

The party first used a smartphone application to report results in 2016, but before then, all results were submitted by phoning them in.

Earlier: Iowa Precinct Chairs Report Struggles With Caucus Phone App

“A lot of us are going to be doing it on paper and calling it in,” said Kelcey Brackett, the chairman of the Muscatine County Democratic Party.

(Updates with Sanders and Biden representatives starting in seventh paragraph)

--With assistance from Gregory Korte, Jennifer Jacobs and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tyler Pager in Des Moines at tpager1@bloomberg.net;Jennifer Epstein in Des Moines at jepstein32@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Larry Liebert

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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