Iowa caucus results are routinely bemoaned as a quaint and overrated expression of presidential opinion from a state that shouldn’t have that much clout.
There’s another reason to question those results. This year, on the Democratic side, they could be wrong.
To settle the matter, the results should be audited and raw votes should be released. That’s what The Des Moines Register called for in a tough editorial, headlined, “Something Smells in the Democratic Party.” And the newspaper is absolutely right. It understands the value of the caucus system to democracy, as well as to that cottage industry known as “the road to the White House.”
“We can take ribbing over our quirky process. But what we can’t stomach is even the whiff of impropriety or error,” the Register’s editorial board wrote. “What happened Monday night at the Democratic caucuses was a debacle, period.” The editorial also said the refusal to undergo scrutiny or allow for appeal “reeks of autocracy.”
Those are strong words from a newspaper that endorsed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.
The editorial goes on to list problems with the caucus that led to what has been reported as a wafer-thin victory by Clinton over Sanders. With a mere two-tenths of 1 percent separating the two rivals, the results “were too close,” said the editorial board, which added: “Too many accounts have arisen of inconsistent counts, untrained and overwhelmed volunteers, confused voters, cramped precinct locations, a lack of voter registration forms, and other problems.”
In some caucus precincts, results were determined by coin flip, of which there is no official documentation available to the public from the Iowa Democratic Party.
The newspaper also calls for a commission to study how Democrats can improve their caucuses. The Republican Party of Iowa did that after a similar embarrassment. In 2012, Mitt Romney was declared the winner. Sixteen days later, a final count showed Rick Santorum was the true victor. A review showed votes on caucus night had been misallocated or lost.
This year, on the Republican side, Donald Trump has also raised questions about Iowa caucus results. He claimed that Ted Cruz, the winner, “stole” the election, by resorting to unfair tactics such as falsely putting out word that Ben Carson was quitting the race, and distributing a pre-caucus “violation” notice to voters who had not turned out in previous caucuses. Sneaky that may be, but it’s different from miscounting votes or losing them.
The debate over how much Iowa should matter in the overall presidential election process mostly absorbs those with a vested interest in it: candidates, campaign operatives, and press who cover them. But the underlying honesty and the integrity of the process should matter to all voters. If the end result isn’t true to their collective desire, what’s the point of voting?
Every candidate wants the momentum Iowa supposedly promises. Each should earn it honestly.