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Is an Audit on the Way for Iowa Caucuses?

Kristin Clemens, of Des Moines, celebrates as her candidate, Sen. Bernard Sanders, won Precinct 47, 84-83 on Monday. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Kristin Clemens, of Des Moines, celebrates as her candidate, Sen. Bernard Sanders, won Precinct 47, 84-83 on Monday. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Iowa Democrats are facing increased pressure to re-examine Monday’s incredibly close and uncomfortably messy vote , especially after the Des Moines Register called for “a complete audit of results.”  

But party leaders say it may be hard to recreate what happened at hundreds of small precinct gatherings, where voters can arrive supporting one candidate and leave backing another. In an editorial published late on Feb. 3 and in today’s print editions , the state’s newspaper argued, “What happened Monday night at the Democratic caucuses was a debacle, period. Democracy, particularly at the local party level, can be slow, messy and obscure. But the refusal to undergo scrutiny or allow for an appeal reeks of autocracy. The Iowa Democratic Party must act quickly to assure the accuracy of the caucus results, beyond a shadow of a doubt.”  

Delays in reporting vote totals on Monday night prompted the state party to reach out to the campaigns to help register the tally. While 100 percent of precincts had reported by the next day, critics of the process pointed to reports of under-staffed precincts and inconsistencies and were calling for the party to take a closer look, including releasing raw vote totals in Hillary Clinton’s razor-thin victory over Sen. Bernard Sanders.  

Sam Lau, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party, said the structure of the caucuses make it difficult to recreate exactly what happened.  

“The Iowa Democratic Caucuses are not a primary — they are the first step in a representative delegate selection process. County delegates are awarded based on Democrats who came to the caucuses on Monday who aligned and then realigned — sometimes for a different candidate than they initially supported,” Lau said, a response provided to Roll Call about the editorial. “People physically aligned in groups. There are no paper ballots to recount. Monday’s caucuses were a unique event that involved more than 171,000 Iowans and their neighbors at a specific time and place, and thus they cannot be re-created or recounted.  

“That being said, we are working with all campaigns on individual concerns they are bringing to us, and addressing them on a case-by-case basis. Just yesterday, we met with the Sanders campaign who brought us a small amount of specific concerns, and the Clinton campaign has also asked us a small amount of questions. We will look into these concerns and work with our county party leadership on any questions.”  

Ruth Thompson from Iowa’s Polk County understands the concerns. On Monday night she experienced repeated delays as she tried to record the results of Precinct 65 through a new app. She considers process a bit rowdy and unconventional at times, but believes its integrity is solid.  

“Do I have a problem with an audit? No. Do I think it’s necessary? No,” said Thompson, who is a member of Polk County Democrats’ central committee.  

“In the end, the process is more representative of what the eventual nominee should be,” Thompson continued, conceding the party should have conducted more rigorous testing of the app and needed to be better about recruiting volunteers and training. She emphasized, though, “I want people to be confident in the returns.”  

Ultimately, Thompson said, “We do need to take a look at what went wrong and make it better.”  

Still, she added, “I don’t think there was any shenanigans.”

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