Embarrassing. Disappointing. And perhaps, irreparably damaging.
Monday’s Iowa caucuses chaos and the state Democratic Party’s failure in getting out results made the state the subject of ridicule when the national spotlight was focused squarely on Iowa.
The national media’s view of the debacle was summed up in the New York Post headline on Tuesday: Duh Moines.
Those waiting up for results and watching television news got a steady diet of mockery from the lengthy roster of pundits lined up on news channels to dissect results. Instead, they eviscerated Iowa.
It was, indeed, problematic. And Democratic Party leaders in the state did themselves no favors by providing little information and initially insisting the app was not to blame, even though precinct captains across the state — including state Sen. Pam Jochum — reported having issues with the app even before the voting began. By Tuesday, the party said it was, in fact, a coding issue with the app.
But let’s keep this in perspective.
In journalism school, Rule One is that it’s better to be right than be first. Democrats could have made an obviously bad situation worse by hurrying to meet the schedules of the talking heads on TV and putting out results they would have to retract/correct later. Yes, this was a major problem, but it was magnified by the pundits with nothing to discuss who spent the time unloading on Iowa and its process.
And lest Republicans react too smugly, let’s remember eight years ago, when that party declared Mitt Romney had edged out Rick Santorum, and then later reversed course to declare Santorum the winner.
There’s a reason the first-in-the-nation political event is called the “Iowa caucuses.” It’s not an election.
For all the folksy and quaint aspects of the caucuses that charmed the national media’s coverage in the run-up to the caucus, come caucus night, people wanted results like we’re accustomed to seeing in an election. That was not going to happen. This process is a lot closer to a straw poll than an election.
Elections are run by government, and laws articulate how recounts and certifications will be conducted and how a winner is determined. Caucuses just aren’t like that. They are quirky exercises, conducted every four years, managed largely by volunteers using, apparently, new and insufficiently tested technology and a backup system.
Let’s not forget, elections aren’t perfect mechanisms either. Remember 2000?
The poor execution of this year’s reporting of results might be the event that finally pushes Iowa out of its position at the front of the line. If that happens, it is due to the parties, not “Iowa” and certainly not the Iowans who volunteered for campaigns and turned out on caucus night.
Iowans have long done their part as participants in this unique political process. They turn out in good numbers to listen to and question candidates. The questions and conversations that take place in Iowa community centers, campuses, cafes and gymnasiums help shape the narrative as candidates hear firsthand what matters to voters.
In 2016, about 350,000 Iowans turned out to caucus. That’s pretty impressive for a state of 3 million people.
While it might not be the most scientific approach — yes, on rare occasions a coin toss is involved — the Iowa method does provide insight to candidates that an arm’s-length primary never could.
Monday’s botched process immediately brought calls for an end to the Iowa caucuses. The frustration surrounding the lack of results is understandable and merits some change in protocol. But if the result means the end of the Iowa caucuses, something in our political process will be lost.