WTF Happened in Iowa? 5 Days Later, We Wanna Know

The AP said it's "unable to declare a winner" in the race. The state party says 100% of the results are now in.

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A solid five days after the Iowa caucuses, which were supposed to kick off the Democratic primary race in exciting fashion, the race is still too close to call.

As we were publishing this article, the AP announced that it "is unable to declare a winner of Iowa’s Democratic caucuses because of irregularities in this year's process and the tight margin between Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders."

Here's the tl;dr of where we are right now:

  • 100% of the results are in but some of the reported results may still have "inaccuracies” according to the New York Times, NBC News, and other sources.
  • DNC Chairman Tom Perez has asked Iowa officials to do a “recanvass” of the results.
  • Sanders has declared victory based on the popular vote. Earlier this week, Buttigieg declared victory based on the delegate count.
  • Trump supporters and internet trolls intentionally clogged up the election hotline after the phone number was posted online.

More info on each bullet point is below.


DNC Chairman Tom Perez has asked for the Iowa Democratic Party to do a “recanvass” of the vote count from Monday, as the controversy over the state’s first-in-the-nation caucus results stretched into a fourth day with no clear outcome.

As of 10:00 am Monday, the number of precincts reporting results in Iowa is 100%, according to the state party, and shows a very close race between Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg. Sanders currently has a roughly 2,000-vote lead in the final popular vote, while Buttigieg has a 2-delegate lead among “state delegate equivalents.” (That’s a difference of .1% between Buttigieg and Sanders among “SDEs.”)

The Iowa caucuses function similarly to the electoral college in the sense that it is possible for one candidate to win the popular vote, and another candidate to win a higher number of delegates — and the latter number is what determines the winner of the race.

As if that weren’t complicated enough, the accuracy of the results is still being called into question. The New York Times published a piece on Thursday claiming the following: “The results released by the Iowa Democratic Party on Wednesday were riddled with inconsistencies and other flaws. According to a New York Times analysis, more than 100 precincts reported results that were internally inconsistent, that were missing data or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses.”

The Times goes on to note that “Some of these inconsistencies may prove to be innocuous, and they do not indicate an intentional effort to compromise or rig the result. There is no apparent bias in favor of the leaders Pete Buttigieg or Bernie Sanders, meaning the overall effect on the winner’s margin may be small.” 

That’s a key observation as many conspiracy theories have sprouted online about whether the DNC or the Iowa state party has been trying to rig the caucus results in favor of one candidate or another. There is no evidence of that being true.

All of the confusion and speculation prompted DNC Chairman Perez to tweet the following:

There’s a technical difference between a “recanvass” and a “recount,” which is why Perez clarified the above. As he said, a “recanvass” is double-checking and re-calculating the math on precinct worksheets. A “recount” would mean every single preference card handed in by a caucus-goer has to be hand-counted again. One of the difficulties in a full recount is that not all caucus-goers actually handed in their preference cards. This was the first year they were required to do that, and some people reportedly left their caucus sites without turning them in.

In response to Perez’s request, Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said they’re prepared for a recanvass, but that they’ll only go forward with it if one of the campaigns specifically requests it. The campaigns have until 1 pm EST Friday to ask for a recanvass or recount.


As for how the candidates are reacting to it all, Bernie Sanders took the opportunity to declare victory based on the current popular vote totals. In the first round of caucusing, Sanders won the highest number of votes, 6,000 more than the second place candidate, Buttigieg. 

In the second and final round of caucusing, that margin narrowed to 2,500. Sanders is emphasizing the first round number, telling reporters at a press conference that “a margin of 6,000 votes is pretty decisive.” (Video below.) He pointed out that they have the lead in the second round vote as well.

Sanders said, “Some 6,000 more Iowans came out on caucus night to support our candidacy than the candidacy of any other candidate. And when 6,000 more people come out for you in an election than your next nearest opponent, we call that a victory.” 

The senator from Vermont also addressed the conversation about Buttigieg currently leading among state delegate equivalents. “No matter who inches ahead in the end, is meaningless, because we are both likely to receive the same number of national delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee,” Sanders said. 
It is likely true that they’ll end up with the same number of national delegates to the DNC from Iowa, of which the state has 41 to offer. A Democratic candidate needs to win 1,990 delegates nationwide in order to secure the presidential nomination.

If your brain is spinning a bit, Sanders is right there with you. He went on to say that “the Iowa caucus is just much, much too complicated...what will not happen again, if I have anything to say about it, is a caucus this complicated.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has retained her third place spot, not far behind the leading two candidates, while Joe Biden remains a more distant fourth.

The next primary is Tuesday, February 11, in New Hampshire.


Bloomberg News reported Thursday that the already-complicated process in Iowa also encountered outside interference in the form of Trump supporters calling and clogging up an election hotline after the number was posted online. It “worsen[ed] delays in the statewide tally,” according to a top Iowa Democratic official.

From Bloomberg News: “The phone number became public after people posted photos of caucus paperwork that included the hotline number.” The state party released a statement Thursday confirming that “the unexplained, and at times hostile, calls contributed to the delay in the...collection of results, but in no way affected the integrity of information gathered.”

NBC News reported that the hotline number was repeatedly posted on the internet message board 4chan, which hosts many alt-right sympathizers and extremists and is known for its trolling. Users encouraged each other to help clog the lines. It worked: Some precinct chairs reported wait times of over an hour or longer when trying to call in results.

And that's where we are now. As many have noted, it may come to pass that we know the results of next Tuesday's New Hampshire primary before we know 100% accurate results from Iowa.