Last night I and thousands of Iowans like me participated in the Democratic Party caucus. After three chaotic years of a Trump presidency and more than a year of non-stop campaigning in our state, it felt good to get on with things. Regardless of the result, we know the ads will stop for at least a few months now.
My caucus experience was pretty low key and without major hassles or snafus. I live tweeted most of it.
Late last night, though, the reports started rolling in that there are hiccups in the party reporting. As I write this at 6:30 the morning after, there are still no results reported. Half of the candidates have declared victory (or at least success), Republican operatives are spinning claims of fraud and manipulation, and once again Iowa looks like a bunch of rubes who can’t even figure out how to tabulate votes.
So, a few thoughts on Tuesday morning:
This is ridiculous. Campaigns and volunteers have spent countless hours and dollars here over the past year to court our first-in-the-nation voters, and we can’t even get an accurate count at the end of the night? The caucus format is quaint (or, as a Canadian friend said, “quirky”), but if in 2020 we can’t even manage to report up simple voter counts, some other state should be going first.
We will get reliable results eventually. I have no doubt that the votes were carefully tabulated at my caucus site, and that they have a paper trail of every
ballot preference card that was filled out. The volunteers running the caucus worked diligently to get an accurate count. Surely a similar scenario played out at each other caucus site through the evening. The data is available and reliable.
This is not an election and isn’t run by our election staff. This point can easily be missed in this morning’s reporting chaos. Normal elections in Iowa are overseen by the Iowa Secretary of State, and run in each county by the County Auditor. When we have the actual November election, each voter will fill out a paper ballot and feed it into a scanning machine with a locked collection bin. An electronic count is available almost immediately with paper backups in case a recount is needed. It’s a reliable system. That system was NOT used last night. Last night’s caucuses were run and results tabulated by volunteers from the political parties. They only do this once every four years. It shows.
This is a system ripe for change. The election cycle is far too long. The caucus system is antiquated. Iowa has no particular business being the first in the nation. Let’s try shortening campaign windows. Let’s have just a handful of primary election days on the schedule, with multiple states participating each time. Let’s have ranked choice voting. (Oh, let’s also make sure everyone has access to vote and encourage as much voting participation as we can.) We can do better.