To put it mildly, Monday night’s Iowa Democratic caucus did not go well. A combination of a new app for reporting caucus results that had some kind of “coding error,” new procedures, and new back-up systems, along with general confusion seemingly caused by inadequate training of the users of the new app and systems, created a chaotic atmosphere and ended up delaying the disclosure of the results. The Iowa Democratic Party did not release partial results until yesterday, and even now, as of 6 a.m. on Wednesday, the New York Times is reporting results from only 71 percent of precincts.
The debacle leaves the Iowa caucus organizers with a huge black eye, and is tremendously unfair to the candidates who endured so many debates and put so much time and effort into the process, hoping for a result that would lift their campaigns and give them that coveted momentum going forward. Instead, the fiasco left nothing but a muddled mess and confusion in its wake, with no clear winner except the conspiracy theorists who wondered whether some foreign government was trying to interfere in the 2020 election or whether Democratic Party leaders were trying to tinker with the results so favored candidates would prevail.
It’s incredible that, in 2020, an American state cannot promptly report accurate results from an political selection process, but maybe there’s a silver lining in all of this and the political parties will ultimately choose to make lemonade from this year’s Iowa lemon. Two choices make sense to me.
First, get rid of the Iowa caucus — something that many people are now calling for or predicting. Iowa follows a weird process that isn’t like an election as most of us understand an election, where we go into a voting booth and cast a secret ballot, or vote absentee, without following convoluted rules that leave people arguing with each other in a high school gym or fire station. The evening caucus process also isn’t welcoming to participation by working people with family obligations. Moreover, Iowa isn’t exactly a representative state — nor is New Hampshire. Rather than adhering to antique notions of who should be first, perhaps political leaders will use the Iowa caucus mayhem as a reason to take a fresh look at the whole process and try to develop a rational approach.
Second, it’s time to call a halt to efforts to be more “cutting edge” in the use of technology in our electoral processes. Elections don’t need to be as easy as summoning an Uber ride. It’s clear that at least part of the problem in Iowa was due to rolling out new and insufficiently tested tech, rather than going with tried and true methods. Using apps and cellphones in elections just raises more concerns about hacking and spoofing and electoral interference, anyway. How about holding an election the old-fashioned way, with volunteers and voting machines, so that we can have some assurance that everyone knows what they are doing and the results can be counted and released within hours, rather than days?
The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucus isn’t the worst thing that has happened in the history of American politics, but it can be viewed as an opportunity to bring some order to the American electoral calendar and the hodge-podge of processes being used. Will there be adults in the room who will decide it’s finally time to seize that opportunity?