App and telephone system flaws mire Iowa caucuses in confusion

Final result stalled amid difficulties dealing with bespoke caucuses software and hotline

The Iowa caucuses ended in chaos and confusion after the results were delayed due to “inconsistencies” in the reporting process, though early results from some precincts showed Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg ahead.

Voting took place at almost 1,700 sites across Iowa on Monday night, kick-starting the process of selecting a Democratic nominee for president. But the Iowa Democratic Party was forced to delay the results over “quality control” issues.

Official results began to be announced on Tuesday evening, almost 24 hours after the caucuses began and most candidates had left the state to begin campaigning in New Hampshire, the next state to hold its selection process.

With 62 per cent of the votes counted, Mr Buttigieg was ahead with 26.9 per cent of the vote, and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders at 25.1 per cent. Elizabeth Warren was ranked third at 18.3 per cent with former vice-president Joe Biden in fourth place with 15.6 per cent. However, those results were not final.


The confusion that marred the first-in-the-nation caucus state emerged on Monday evening, as precinct “captains” representing representatives in sites across the states reported difficulties in communicating their caucus results to Democratic headquarters in the capital, Des Moines.

Some reported being put on hold for hours on the designated “hotline” following difficulties using an app that had been specially designed for the caucuses.

Speeches delivered

Despite the lack of a final result, most candidates delivered speeches to supporters late on Monday.

“The message that Iowa has sent to the nation is a message shared by the American people,” Mr Sanders told supporters. “That we want a government that represents all of us, not just wealthy campaign contributors and the 1 per cent.”

Mr Buttigieg went further, striking a triumphant note.

“What a night, because a night an improbable hope became an undeniable reality,” Mr Buttigieg declared at his headquarters. “So we don’t know all the results, but we know by the time it’s all said and done, Iowa you have shocked the nation, because by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”

Mr Sanders later criticised his rival. “I don’t know how anybody declares victory before you have an official statement as to the election results,” he said.

In a strongly worded letter to the Iowa Democratic Party, Mr Biden’s campaign demanded “full explanations and relevant information” before any final results were announced.

Election integrity

“The app that was intended to relay caucus results to the party has failed; the party’s back-up telephonic reporting system likewise has failed,” the letter stated.

Monday night’s confusion raised election integrity issues at a time when the Democratic National Committee has been working hard to prevent election interference and misinformation in the primary campaign.

A highly anticipated poll by the Des Moines Register on Saturday night was also scrapped at the last minute after a candidate raised questions about the process.

Several Trump supporters seized on the chaos unfolding in Iowa. “Mark my words, they are rigging this thing . . . what a mess,” tweeted the president’s son, Eric. “This is why people don’t want the #Dems running our country. #meltdown.”

The president also weighed in ahead of his state of the union speech to congress last night.

“The Democrat Caucus is an unmitigated disaster. Nothing works, just like they ran the Country. Remember the 5 Billion Dollar Obamacare Website, that should have cost 2 per cent of that. The only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night is ‘Trump’.”

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent