Seldom in the history of the United States of America has a presidential caucus been so chaotic. The mess in the Iowa caucus is a blow to American faith in democracy. Confusion gets worse confounded as more than a week after the event, there is as yet no declared winner or loser. To blame it on technology addresses only a part of the issue in the midst of such irritants as App malfunctioning, confusing calibration, and dubious results.
Far from boosting the spirit of the Democrats in the wake of the failure of the impeachment process, the debacle in Iowa has dealt a setback to the whole process. There is likely to be a further delay in the declaration of the final outcome as the results are set to be re-examined. As the fog gets increasingly dense, the caucus has been debunked as a “shameful farce”.
No results were initially reported, after an App, said to have been developed by a shadowy private company, called Shadow, malfunctioned. The Iowa Democratic party then compounded the problem by refusing to disclose when the results could be expected. As the results trickled out over the next few days, the figures showed that Bernie Sanders had the maximum votes in the state, while Pete Buttigieg narrowly had the most “state delegate equivalents”.
This led Buttigieg to declare victory and gave him a bounce in the polls. But as more results came in terribly slowly, Sanders narrowed the gap in state delegate equivalents, and it is still far from clear as to actually won. The tallies don’t add up, the delegate numbers are wrong, and there are mismatches between the numbers reported by the state and those furnished by local units.
While the mess has been overwhelming, the traditional resilience of American democracy has been underwhelmed. Whoever pulls ahead in the final count, it was a serious defeat for democracy. The caucuses are held in public, so at the end of the day the people have access to a fairly credible count. By deploying an untested App with no transparency, they raised suspicion about manipulation.
By keeping the results they had under wraps, without giving any explanation or timeline, they conveyed the impression that they were sitting on the results because they didn’t like the outcome. By releasing results that contained obvious errors (which tended to go against Sanders), and delaying the results that pulled Sanders closer to Buttigieg, they looked conspiratorial.
Altogether, this preelection process was decidedly absurd. Iowa, in a word, has been an ignoble start to the season of primaries. The least that the voter deserved was a clear result. Faith in the democratic institutions has been eroded. The system has come through as shady and rigged and the damage may not be easy to heal. Mr Trump may be enjoying a quiet chuckle.