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What we know about what went wrong in the Iowa caucuses

Posted at 4:54 AM, Feb 04, 2020

First-in-the-nation Iowa was supposed to be the first indication, based on votes and not polls, of where the candidates stand in the Democratic primary horse race.

But now, after the state party “found inconsistencies in the reporting” of the results, the candidates -- and the country -- are still in the dark regarding how caucusgoers felt Monday night.

“[T]he integrity of our process, and the results have and always will be our top priority,” Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) Chairman Troy Price told reporters during a 2 a.m. call. “At this point, the IDP is manually verifying all precinct results ... We want to emphasize that this is a recording, not a hack on intrusion. And it's exactly why we have a paper trail and systems in place to uphold the integrity of our process.”

The results are now expected sometime Tuesday, Price said, noting it’s “taking longer than expected” to validate the data they have against the paper trail.

“We have said all along, we have these backups in place for exactly this reason. We are updating campaigns and we will continue to provide updates as they are available,” he said.

Just ten minutes before the caucuses began, Price told reporters outside the media filing center that usually, results start coming in around 9 p.m., an hour after the contest kicks off. But 9 p.m. came and went, and then 10 p.m. came and went, and, at 10:45 p.m., an update from the Iowa Democratic Party finally arrived.

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"We have experienced a delay in the results due to quality checks and the fact that the IDP is reporting out three data sets for the first time,” communications director Mandy McClure said, adding that about 25% of precincts had reported.

Fifteen minutes later, still no results. By that time in 2016, 90% of the vote was in.

A half hour before midnight, a new statement came from the Iowa Democratic Party, saying it had “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results.”

The party insisted it was “simply a reporting issue,” and that the app being used to submit results to the state party “did not go down.”

“This is not a hack or an intrusion,” communications director Mandy McClure said. “The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.”

At each caucus site, the precinct leaders were responsible for reporting the results to the state party. They had two ways to do so -- use an app on a mobile device or call the results in over the phone, the way they have historically been reported to the party. Additionally, caucusgoers filled out preference cards indicating their initial candidate of choice and their second choice, if they had to realign to another candidate’s corner because their first pick didn’t reach the viability threshold.

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The party then called a meeting with the campaigns to brief them on the vote delays but, after that call, a representative for the Sanders campaign told ABC News they hadn’t been given a timeline for when to expect results.

Sean Bagniewski, the chairman of the Polk County Democrats -- the largest county in the state -- echoed that timing uncertainty.

He told ABC News that among the 177 precinct chairs in the county, some were having issues logging into and downloading the reporting app starting last week, so the county party recommended reporting the results the old fashion way -- calling them in.

However, he said the lines were busy, and they had “no clue” why it wasn’t working.

At a caucus site in Cedar Rapids, the woman trying to call in the results had been trying to reach the state party since just after the caucus there ended around 10 p.m. At one point, her call dropped, and she had to call and get back in the queue again, reminded by an automated voice every two minutes, “Your call will be answered in the order it was received.”

When ABC News and her departed ways around midnight, she was still on hold.

Just before midnight, the Biden campaign’s general counsel requested the Iowa Democratic Party update the campaigns before anything was reported, citing the “considerable flaws” in the contest's reporting system.

“We believe that the campaigns deserve full explanations and relevant information regarding the methods of quality control you are employing, and an opportunity to respond, before any official results are released,” general counsel Dana Remus wrote in a letter to the IDP.

Despite the lack of official results, and no projection on a winner from ABC News, campaigns tried to spin the night in their favor, as they moved on to the next contest -- the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire.

In a speech before his supporters at his caucus watch party in Des Moines, former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg declared victory.

“So we don't know all the results. But we know by the time it's all said and done, Iowa you have shocked the nation,” he said. “Because by all indications, we are going onto New Hampshire victorious.”

The Sanders campaign released internal caucus result data, attempting to take control of the narrative as focus shifted toward the nation’s next votes.

“We recognize that this does not replace the full data from the Iowa Democratic Party, but we believe firmly that our supporters worked too hard for too long to have the results of that work delayed,” Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said in a statement.

“I imagine, have a strong feeling that at some point the results will be announced. And when those results are announced, I have a good feeling we're going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa,” Sanders said on stage in Des Moines.

Without results, campaigns attempted to bypass the state to declare whatever victory they could in an attempt to gain momentum heading into New Hampshire.

Warren’s campaign manager expressed disappointment about the lack of results.

“I think that every second goes by, every single second that passes where we don't get a final result is concerning,” Roger Lau told reporters.

Though he said the campaign had confidence about where Warren ended the night.

Not to be lost in the craziness of the Democratic side of things tonight, ABC News did make one projection: President Donald Trump won the Republican caucus here.

And his campaign was working to spin the night’s unexpected events, with campaign manager Brad Parscale saying in a statement, “Democrats are stewing in a caucus mess of their own creation with the sloppiest train wreck in history.”

“It would be natural for people to doubt the fairness of the process.”