DES MOINES — Flash back four years: After the 2016 Iowa Democratic caucuses, amid concerns about procedures and access and a thin lead by Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, the state party asked a panel to look into the process and make recommendations.
Now back to today — a process that failed to declare a winner even 48 hours after thousands of Iowans came out to nearly 1,700 caucus sites across the state to express their preferences.
Do Iowas Democrats need another review?
Key members of that 2016 committee said a similar post-mortem would be useful.
But they cautioned such a committee must be properly formed and given clear guidance. And one 2016 committee member said any review should not focus only on the meltdown in reporting the results.
“Of course, of course, we should,” said Dave Nagle, the former Democratic congressman from Eastern Iowa who led the 2016 review. “But we should look at everything. … The caucus procedure should have a top-to-bottom review.”
State party officials said a coding error in the phone app developed for this year’s caucuses caused inconsistencies in the results, and backup systems took longer than expected to execute — leaving the world watching without complete results as the candidates campaigned toward Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
As of late Wednesday, about 95 percent of precincts officially had been reported by the state party. Pete Buttigieg led with 26.4 percent of the state delegate equivalents awarded, and Sanders was close behind with 25.7 percent. Elizabeth Warren had 18.3 percent, Joe Biden 15.8 percent and Amy Klobuchar 12.8 percent.
The Associated Press said the contest remained too close to call.
Precinct leaders from across the state said they experienced issues with the results reporting app, and then had to deal with overwhelmed phone lines when many leaders attempted to call results into party headquarters at the same time.
“The app was just a fatal flaw,” Nagle said.
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Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price said Tuesday during a brief news conference that “a thorough, transparent and independent examination of what occurred” will come.
Norm Sterzenbach, who also served on that 2016 review committee and is a former state party caucus director, said any new committee will need to be carefully designed to be effective.
“There’s a couple of issues. The first is just determining what happened (with the app), what broke down, doing that post-mortem and figuring out what was the problem, and then trying to develop solutions for that,” Sterzenbach said. But “I think that commissions are not always helpful in producing a good result. I think they produce a political result. The recommendations are something all perspectives agree to, instead of a clear direction for the committee to go.”
Chris Hall, a Democratic state legislator from Sioux City and another member of the 2016 caucus review committee, said he thinks the committee’s work was productive and helped improve the caucus experience this time.
He said he feels its recommendations helped create caucuses that were well-run — until it came time to report.
When asked if another review committee could be similarly helpful, Hall said the focus for now needs to remain on producing complete and accurate results.
“The dust needs to settle. First, we need to make sure the information is accurate and well-reported,” Hall said. “And certainly (then) we’ll be wanting to figure out the next steps from there.”
Nagle praised the state party for focusing on accurate results and criticized the national party for requiring additional data reporting this time.
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In an effort to increase transparency in the process, the national party this year required the state party for the first time to record and report not just the state delegate equivalents earned at the end of the process, but also the total first preference for each candidate and the final alignment.
Nagle also pushed back at media outlets critical of Iowa Democrats for not producing timely results.
“I feel like I’ve lost a member of my family,” he said in describing his reaction to the wave of criticism. “It’s painful.”