Democrats’ Caucus-Chaos: Party Switched Iowa Delegate from Sanders to Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters during her caucus night event in the Olmsted Center at Drake University on February 1, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Clinton defeated Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to win the Iowa Democratic caucus.

Iowa’s Des Moines Register is calling for a full audit of the Clinton vs. Sanders caucus count, and now the UK Guardian explains how the state’s Democrat Party bypassed the computer system to give at least one Bernie Sanders delegate to Hillary Clinton, without even notifying the precinct chair.

In Grinnell Ward 1, the precinct where elite liberal arts college Grinnell College is located, 19 delegates were awarded to Bernie Sanders and seven were awarded to Hillary Clinton on caucus night.

However, the Iowa Democratic party decided to shift one delegate from Sanders to Clinton on the night and did not notify precinct chair J Pablo Silva that they had done so. Silva only discovered that this happened the next day, when checking the precinct results in other parts of the county.

The shift of one delegate at a county convention level would not have significantly affected the ultimate outcome of the caucus, but rather, it raises questions about the Iowa Democratic party’s management of caucus night.

Silva spoke with the Guardian and stressed that the issue was one of “confusion over party rules in an anomalous situation,” not underhanded delegate-stealing tactics.

However, it clearly was a unilateral action by the state party, and they ended up apologizing to the precinct chair for it:

The precinct, which is the largest in the state had 925 caucus-goers and the Iowa Democratic party’s formula for apportioning delegates was not capable of fully dealing with circumstances in such a large precinct, he said. This meant that when people left the course of the caucus process, the algorithm wasn’t capable of dealing with the shift in delegates.

As Silva explained it, the Iowa Democratic party’s formula for apportioning delegates left no method of dealing with one delegate in the precinct. Silva had anticipated this and sought clarification from a party staffer and laid out what seemed to be the correct method. When results were reported to the central reporting center in Des Moines, party staffers, who were able to adjust numbers reported in the much vaunted Microsoft app used by the Iowa Democratic party before they were released to the public, unilaterally made changes. And, as Silva noted: “They did it indirectly in my opinion.”

While Silva was grateful that he wasn’t called in the middle of the night about any issue, he was “kind of surprised” to see a result different than what he had reported the next day. Eventually, after lobbying both by Silva and former county chair Don Smith, they have received assurances that the delegate numbers for that precinct will be corrected. Smith explicitly told the Guardian that Iowa Democratic party executive director Ben Foecke had apologized to him over the unilateral action.

The Sanders campaign has come up a bit short of alleging foul play, but it has suggested human-error cost Sanders a razor-thin victory in the state, and has called for the raw vote totals to be released.

As of Friday afternoon, the Iowa state party gave no indication it would release the vote totals, or perform the audit demanded by the Des Moines Register.

The wheel is likely to turn on this story after the New Hampshire primary, as it will on the Republicans’ more prosaic Iowa controversy.  Complaining about Iowa results after New Hampshire is usually a net minus for candidates, no matter the nature of the complaint.  It will be interesting to see if any changes are made for the 2020 caucuses, as the GOP made improvements after a messy operation in 2012.