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With Iowa’s caucuses facing the prospect of losing its traditional kickoff spot in the Democratic presidential nominating calendar, a new report investigating the botched reporting of the 2020 caucuses lays much of the blame of the debacle at the hands of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
But the DNC defends its role in the meltdown of the reporting of the results in the Feb. 3 caucuses. And the discord between the national and state party comes ahead of a move starting next year by a top DNC committee to review the 2020 presidential nominating calendar, which could lead to long proposed changes starting in 2024 to Iowa’s role leading the process.
The audit, commissioned months ago by the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP), was distributed on Saturday to the state party’s central committee and made public. It spotlights a series of errors made by the DNC, the state party, and the technology firm hired by the IDP to build a reporting app to compile caucus results.
Caucus goers check in at a caucus at Roosevelt High School, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
It states that the national party, weeks before the caucuses, demanded a new tool to give it real-time results. This new tool, the report says, included coding errors that delivered inaccurate results, leading to a days-long delay
“Attempting to graft an entirely new software element onto the back-end reporting system at the proverbial eleventh hour is likely always going to be problematic, and it was ultimately the cause of a major problem on caucus night,” the report states. “Furthermore, the IDP was not involved in the development of this tool. The IDP simply permitted the DNC to direct the IDP’s vendor.”
Responding to the report, DNC spokesman David Bergstein highlighted that “the need for the IDP to include a quality control check in their system was validated by numerous press reports which found “errors and inconsistencies” in the initial caucus results. The underlying technical problems were caused by errors from the IDP’s vendor.”
The botched reporting of the caucuses in early February became a national and international story, and it was an embarrassment for Iowa Democrats.
The party was unable to determine a winner on the night of the Feb. 3 caucuses, after a mobile app used to count and report the results crashed and the telephone backup system was overrun. Three days after the caucuses, when the presidential race moved on to the New Hampshire primary, the Iowa Democrats released statewide results showing former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg narrowly beating Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont by a razor-thin margin, in a field of roughly two dozen candidates.
The Associated Press never projected a winner in the contest, pointing to the reporting debacle in saying it could not be certain of the results. The state party eventually certified the caucus results on Feb. 29.
Troy Price, who was the Iowa Democratic Party chairman at the time, resigned nine days after the caucuses.
The report indicates that the DNC did not allow auditors to speak with the committee’s staff. But the national party says they were concentrating on trying to win the general election at the time this report was compiled.
“Evaluating the nominating process always happens following the election so that DNC staff can remain focused on winning the general election, and this cycle that work helped contribute to President-Elect Biden’s historic victory,” Bergstein said.
IDP Chair Mark Smith emphasized in a statement that “the findings of this independent, detailed review of what happened during the 2020 caucuses should speak for itself.”
Iowa for decades has faced criticism amid party circles that its lack of diversity should disqualify it from kicking off the Democratic presidential primary and caucus calendar. New Hampshire, which goes second in the calendar and holds the first presidential primary, has also faced similar critiques.
But Iowa has also been targeted since it holds a caucus, which has fallen out of favor with many Democrats.
Outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in August that the party should phase out caucuses. “I think by 2024 we ought to have everyone being a primary state,” he told the AP during the Democratic National Convention.
The DNC’s discussions regarding changes to the 2024 Democratic presidential nominating calendar will start next year.
“Every four years, the DNC looks back at what worked and what didn’t work and the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will continue to evaluate all areas of our nominating process and make recommendations for any changes,” Bergstein noted.
And by taking aim at the national party, Iowa Democrats may not be doing themselves any favors. DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee member Maria Cardona took to Twitter to fire back at Iowa.
“Instead of playing the blame game, the IDP should be focused on transitioning to a more inclusive, less resource draining, more democratic primary. We should be done with caucuses,” Cardona wrote.
Veteran Iowa-based Democratic consultant Jeff Link told Fox News earlier this month, ahead of the report’s release, that the reporting meltdown “absolutely does” threaten Iowa’s chances of staying first in the Democratic presidential calendar.
“There’s going to be a very important conversation about what happened, what went wrong, and how we deal with that going forward,” Link emphasized.