What’s the Matter with Iowa?


New Orleans      I’m not one of the political junkies that stays up late on the night of the Iowa caucus to see the results.  Forty years ago, ACORN organized at the Iowa caucuses.  I’ve followed them ever since that time.  I think they are unrepresentative and a hot mess. When I looked online and found that in fact there were no results being reported from Iowa because it was total meltdown, I couldn’t help laughing out loud at 5 AM in the morning.

Fingers are pointing at the technology involved, but the problems with Iowa are much deeper than any fancy-pants tech breakdown.  They devised an app for reporting three levels of results for the first time:  first, the initial caucus grouping, then, the mashup when those supporters with less than 15% had to regroup, and finally the delegate preference.  Interesting, but do you try this out across the state for the first time with the whole country watching?  Heck, no!  The problem in Iowa is systemic, but as sadly, it’s organizational, and who believes that they will every fix this?

There was no tech-app training program administered by the Iowa state Democratic party people.  Some counties didn’t even bother trying the app at all.   Others couldn’t upload the app. The head of the Polk County Democratic Party, where the largest city Des Moines is located, recognized the problems with the app, and had his folks take pictures of the results and drive them to the state headquarters, but they would not take them.  Others tried to call in on one of the three different phone numbers, but they couldn’t get through.  The state party recognized that the results were inconsistent so they couldn’t be reported, delaying any reckoning until the day after the caucus.  Plan B was point fingers and put your head on the desk and cry.

The problem in Iowa is more than organizational, it also systemic.

Almost every candidate can easily claim a victory.  In some past contests, the presumed winner the night of the caucus claiming victory and headlined across the country, a week later turned out to have actually trailed in the delegate count from Iowa, which was the whole point, if you recall.  Premature certainty and spin more than anything else rules Iowa.  Given this meltdown all the candidates and their communications directors were claiming victory and throwing shade on the other candidates.

Counting bodies is not the same as counting votes.  It is not an exact science.  Don’t get me wrong.  ACORN loved caucuses.  Caucuses are an organizing opportunity.   The stories we could tell.  Organizers who were allowed to vote and break the ties.  My brother in a Des Moines caucus ended up being the person to count the vote giving us an opportunity to put a finger on the scale.  When we were trying to get delegates, we mopped up in caucus states!

Is this the way to determine voter preference or decide who might be the best candidate for president?  Hardly!  This is a process that favors the best organized for sure, so we loved it, but is it a democratic system?  Not really.  There’s something the matter with Iowa, its system, and its organization.  Let them do what they want late in the spring when it doesn’t matter to much of anyone.  Iowa should never be the first horse out of the gate in the presidential race.