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For Democrats Iowa is a four-letter word

  • Published at 12:30 am February 7th, 2020
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price takes questions from press ahead of the Iowa Caucus results announcement in Des Moines, Iowa, US, February 4, 2020 Reuters

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

Iowa and the Democratic Party had four years to prepare for the start if the 2020 Presidential campaign. Those four years were spent changing caucus rules, buying expensive software and trying to do everything possible to keep the party from going too far left. Four days after the Iowa caucuses it is safe to say all three of those ideas failed. 

An editorial in the Des Moines Register, titled “Something smells in the Democratic Party,” said: “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. 

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.

We need answers to what happened Monday night. The future of the first-in-the-nation caucuses demands it.”

The largest newspaper in Iowa hit all the right points, there was confusion, inconsistent counts and the result was nothing short of a disaster. The odd thing about that extended quote is that editorial was published the day after the 2016 caucuses when Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by the razor thin margin of 0.2%. That election with all the controversy surrounding coin tosses, and final vote counts forced the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to set up the now-in-hindsight-laughably-named Unity Reform Commission to, “to rebuild our Party so that we are competitive all across this country.” 

The commission changed the rules in Iowa to make the process more transparent, or so they thought. In 2020 three sets of numbers would be reported instead of one, the initial vote total, the final vote total (after realignment), and state delegate equivalents, which was previously the only reported number. On the surface it seemed like a wise move, initial votes and final vote totals had always been counted in Iowa but never reported. In 2020 all they would have to do is report what they were already tallying up. If only that was the case.

The new wrinkle this time around was the purpose-built app to report those results. As we’ve now found out from campaign disclosure reports the company that built the app was paid $63,000 in November and December for their work. In two short months they created a buggy and barely beta tested app that has been described as a “fancy calculator”. The fancy calculator failed spectacularly on Monday night, and took down the already barely credible reputation of the Democratic party with it. 

After heated debates about super delegates and a rigged process that favoured Hillary Clinton in 2016, this was supposed to be the year they brought disillusioned voters back under their so-called big tent. The only way to do that was to hold free, fair and credible elections. Faith needed to be put back into the electoral process and with the eyes of the world on them they failed to cross the first hurdle. 

Bernie Sanders supporters have flooded the internet with talk of yet another rigged election as the inconsistencies pile up in Iowa and after what happened last time it’s easy to understand that narrative. The democratic establishment has attacked him ad nauseum since he decided to run in 2020. Politico reported that Obama and his team would be willing to step into the race and intervene and speak out to stop Bernie Sanders if he was running away with the primary race. Two weeks ago Hillary Clinton came out of relative political retirement to add, “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.” And Martin O Malley, the other democratic candidate everyone forgot about in 2016 said, “I think he’d be an awful choice as our party’s nominee. I do not believe that he would be a strong candidate for our party in the fall. And, except for three months out of every four years, he’s not even of our party.” 

Therein lies one of the biggest issues with the Democratic party, they don’t even think he’s a Democrat. He has spent most of his political life as an independent and generally caucused with the Democrats, but that isn’t enough for them. In their eyes he just isn’t one of them. Funnily enough it looks the DNC believes that former Republican Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg is more of a democrat that Sanders. 

In an astonishing about turn they have changed the qualifying rules for the next presidential debates in a way that will allow the self-funded billionaire to take the stage with his fellow democratic presidential candidates. The restrictive qualifying rules for the previous debates that kept candidates of colour like Julian Castro, Corey Booker and Tulsi Gabbard off the main stage have been relaxed for billionaire who thinks he can be president. I wonder what the Unity Reform Commission had to say about that. 

Unfortunately, Iowa will not be about Pete Buttigieg edging Sanders to the win. This should have been his moment, but the electoral farce has taken that away from him. The story could very well be that Joe Biden does not have the numbers to support his confidence in this race after an abysmal 4th place finish or that Elizabeth Warren might have fallen in the polls but not by as much as people thought. The story will probably be that Sanders lost by a sliver and that the Democratic party is out to foil him again. That is most likely not the case but just try convincing Sanders supporters otherwise.    


Nader Rahman is a freelance journalist based in New York