Iowa’s Des Moines Register: Dem caucuses were ‘a debacle, period’

Here, in its entirety, is an editorial that The Des Moines Register published last night (links are the Register’s):

Once again the world is laughing at Iowa. Late-night comedians and social-media mavens are having a field day with jokes about missing caucus-goers and coin flips.

That’s fine. We can take ribbing over our quirky process. But what we can’t stomach is even the whiff of impropriety or error.

What happened Monday night at the Democratic caucuses was a debacle, period. Democracy, particularly at the local party level, can be slow, messy and obscure. But the refusal to undergo scrutiny or allow for an appeal reeks of autocracy.

The Iowa Democratic Party must act quickly to assure the accuracy of the caucus results, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

First of all, the results were too close not to do a complete audit of results. Two-tenths of 1 percent separated Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. A caucus should not be confused with an election, but it’s worth noting that much larger margins trigger automatic recounts in other states.

Second, too many questions have been raised. Too many accounts have arisen of inconsistent counts, untrained and overwhelmed volunteers, confused voters, cramped precinct locations, a lack of voter registration forms and other problems. Too many of us, including members of the Register editorial board who were observing caucuses, saw opportunities for error amid Monday night’s chaos.

The Sanders campaign is rechecking results on its own, going precinct by precinct, and is already finding inconsistencies, said Rania Batrice, a Sanders spokeswoman. The campaign seeks the math sheets or other paperwork that precinct chairs filled out and were supposed to return to the state party. They want to compare those documents to the results entered into a Microsoft app and sent to the party.

“Let’s compare notes. Let’s see if they match,” Batrice said Wednesday.

Dr. Andy McGuire, chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, dug in her heels and said no. She said the three campaigns had representatives in a room in the hours after the caucuses and went over the discrepancies.

McGuire knows what’s at stake. Her actions only confirm the suspicions, wild as they might be, of Sanders supporters. Their candidate, after all, is opposed by the party establishment — and wasn’t even a Democrat a few months ago.

So her path forward is clear: Work with all the campaigns to audit results. Break silly party tradition and release the raw vote totals. Provide a list of each precinct coin flip and its outcome, as well as other information sought by the Register. Be transparent.

And then call for a blue-ribbon commission to study how to improve the caucuses, as the Republican Party of Iowa did after its own fiasco in 2012. Monday’s mess showed that it’s time for the Democrats to change, too.

The caucuses have become something they were never intended to be. It’s as if RAGBRAI tried to morph into the Tour de France. It wasn’t built for the speed or the significance.

The current process grew out of efforts to find a more democratic way to choose delegates to conventions, after the grassroots saw how Democratic power-brokers controlled the nominating process in 1968. But the caucuses have become as antiquated and opaque as the smoke-filled rooms of yore.

Democrats should ask themselves: What do we want the Iowa caucus to be? How can we preserve its uniqueness while bringing more order? Does it become more like a straw poll or primary? How do we strike the balance between tradition and transparency?

We have time to consider these questions. First, however, we need answers to what happened Monday night. The future of the first-in-the-nation caucuses demands it.

As I noted recently, there is no good reason for Iowa not to scrap the caucus model altogether and adopt a primary-election model, which most of the states possess.*

There should be paper ballots that can be recounted if necessary, as it is here in California. No caucusing, just secret ballots cast by individual voters — again, on paper, so that recounts and audits are possible.

We can’t have faith or trust in the results of what’s supposed to be a democratic process if we have no way to check those results, especially when the results are so close that they are within a fraction of 1 percent — and, of course, when a state’s Democratic Party official refuses to release for review the documentation that is supposed to back up the official results of a democratic process, as is the case in Iowa.

You’d think that Team Billary would want to avoid the skepticism and doubt of Billary’s razor-thin “win” in Iowa, would want to remove all doubt and skepticism that Billary “won” fairly and squarely, but I’ve yet to read or hear that Team Billary has asked for the documentation of the Iowa caucuses to be released.

Curious.

*Wikipedia states this of the New Hampshire primaries:

The scheduled date of the New Hampshire primary always officially starts out as the second Tuesday in March, which is the date when town meetings and non-partisan municipal elections are traditionally held.

New Hampshire law stipulates (in section RSA 653:9 of the statute book) that the secretary of state can change the date to ensure that the New Hampshire primary will take place at least seven days before any “similar election” in any other state.

The Iowa caucuses are not considered to be a similar election. In recent election cycles, the New Hampshire primary has taken place the week after the Iowa caucus.

New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status was threatened in 2007, when both the Republican and Democratic National Committees moved to give more populous states a bigger influence in the presidential race.

Several states also sought to move up the dates of their 2008 primaries in order to have more influence and dilute the power of the New Hampshire primary. Originally held in March, the date of the New Hampshire primary has been moved up repeatedly to maintain its status as first. The 2008 primary was held on January 8.

Perhaps Iowans don’t want to compete with New Hampshire’s demand to always hold the first primary anywhere in the nation, so they don’t want to let go of the caucus model, but, it seems to me, a hybrid is possible: caucus as usual, but then cast votes on paper ballots as in a primary election, so that there is a clear paper trail of ballots.

P.S. Slate.com’s Josh Vorhees weighs in on the Register’s editorial and the problems with the Democratic Iowa caucuses, and concludes: “So, it’s fair to wonder: Would the Iowa Democratic Party be as confident in its final results if they would have shown Sanders with the narrow lead as opposed to the other way around?”

Yup.

Methinks that the Iowa Democratic Party wanted to deliver a “win” to Billary, whether she actually won or not.

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