WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? After an entire year of campaigning, and fish frying, and selfie lines, and millions in ad buys, and the national media camping out in Des Moines, the Iowa caucus was a spectacular, unmitigated disaster. There are currently no results to report from last night's first-in-the-nation Democratic contest. Because everything that could go wrong .... DID. There was never a good reason to allow a tiny, conservative, white state which can't even be bothered to vote like normal people to open our primary season, and this debacle should be the last time we let that happen. Iowa needs to go to its room and think about what it's done, for a long, long time.
Here's how it went down.
The Warning Signs
Saturday night was supposed to be the big reveal for the gold standard Iowa poll, done by Selzer & Co. for the Des Moines Register and CNN. But moments before the scheduled 7pm drop, they yanked the poll. Turns out, one of the call center operators had enlarged the font so much that it cut off Pete Buttigieg's name, so he wasn't one of the candidates included in that caller's data set. Ooopsie!
But of the course, the results leaked anyway. And FiveThirtyEight reported that it showed Biden collapsing to fourth place at only 13 percent. Which is wildly out of synch with the rest of the polling, which showed Biden and Sanders roughly tied for first place at around 21 percent.
Human error aside there's a reason Ann Selzer's poll is the best. And it's because she gets it right! Which means that my article from yesterday, which relied on every other poll and that assumed Sanders and Biden would reach the 15 percent viability threshold in most precincts turned out to be wildly off. Mea maxima culpa!
Because Iowa's 1,681 precincts aren't enough for a state with a whole three million people, there are an additional 99 "satellite sites" from places as far afield as the Brooklyn Public Library and Tblisi, Georgia. (Why??????) For people who needed to vote early because "jobs," there were satellite caucuses -- which are the only ones we still have any data for. Which meant that the entire American media spent hours focusing on rooms like this one in Ottumwa.
Without denigrating these people exercising their civic duty, the news value of events like these is exceedingly low. It mainly functions as a measure of intensity among a small number of supporters, rather than broad-based support among the wider electorate.
It's important to note that there are exactly zero official results available right now. And the national news media tends to cluster in Des Moines, where progressive candidates will do better than a centrist like the former VP. Perhaps Biden dominated in the rural districts that didn't get any coverage. But the early returns show him failing to reach the 15 percent viability threshold in many precincts, in line with the Selzer data.
But Sanders, Buttigieg, and Warren had a HUGE night.
No, but seriously, Iowa, WHAT THE FUCK? Who would choose a president like this?
Kewl! And, oh by the way, turnout was really low, which is an ominous sign for November where Democrats only win if we, you know, SHOW UP.
More Trouble Signs
Because Iowa's place in the calendar gives it outsize clout in the nominating process, the DNC has accommodated the state's flagrantly bassackward voting system. And because there was such a clamor of #DNCRigged after 2016, the party has bent over backward to be as transparent as possible. For the first time, the party would release the initial preference numbers, AKA the first alignment, the tally after supporters of candidates below the 15 percent viability threshold were allowed to switch teams, AKA the second alignment, and the final delegate allocation, AKA state delegate equivalent, or SDE.
To facilitate this open and informative process, they coded up a handy-dandy app for the precinct captains to report their results. And the app ... failed. Which meant that those captains had to wait on hold forever to verbally transmit the results to the Iowa Democratic Party.
Or text them in, which is not how you run a safe digital election. (Heyyyyy, Vlad!)
Some precincts just gave up and started tweeting their results at reporters.
Can we get a UN election monitor in here, please?
In prior years, supporters of viable candidates could shift their allegiance between the first and second alignments. But this year, in a failed attempt to streamline the process, the DNC changed the rules, locking in the first round "votes" for any candidate that met the 15 percent viability threshold. Supporters of a viable candidate could simply go home if they didn't want to spend another hour trying to round up orphans from non-viable candidates to join their team. And some of them did just that, working on the assumption that their votes would still count.
Except it appears that some precincts never got the got the memo. Elizabeth Warren's team reports that precinct captains were doing a straight-up head count for the second alignment, effectively discarding the supporters who had already left before the final tally.
Meanwhile, the Biden people sent a letter demanding that no results be released until the Iowa Democratic Party 'splains what the hell happened and if the tallies got garbled in the DNC's crappy, broken app.
Which is probably not a sign that they think Ol' Joe cleaned up in the delegate count.
Did We Mention That Caucuses Are Bullshit?
Brass tacks, Iowa does not make a damn bit of difference to the Democratic nominating process. The state contributes 41 delegates to the 3,979 that will choose our nominee -- a whopping 1 percent!
And to select those 41 delegates, the precincts will send 2,107 state delegates to be winnowed at a convention in April. And then a further pare-down at another convention in June. And THIS IS RIDICULOUS!
You know what else is ridiculous? The way the delegate allocation works at the precinct level.
So Klobuchar, whose supporters likely made Biden viable, gets zero delegates. Buttigieg gets almost twice as many "votes" as Biden, but only nets one extra delegate. Wanna play again?
Where is the logic in a 2-vote differential tipping Warren to two delegates, and a 24 vote differential (between Warren and Buttigieg) only netting one extra delegate for Mayor Pete? Wouldn't it make sense to just count the damn votes?
So, Was It #Rigged?
No, it wasn't rigged! The DNC couldn't rig a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors with a kindergartner! It was a catastrophic series of human fuckups because one tiny, white, rural state, which is probably going to vote for Donald Trump anyway, refuses to give up its anachronistic buggy whip of a nominating process and insists on going first. And we continue to let it!
NEVER AGAIN. No more caucuses, no more letting Iowa go first. This has to stop!
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.