Monday’s Iowa caucus — the first major primary election event for the Democratic presidential candidates — came off like a well-oiled machine, if by “well-oiled machine,” we mean a dumpster fire fueled by an oil spill to illuminate a fight between a wolverine and a honey badger. Though the results from the voting were expected Monday night, it was Wednesday evening before the complete but, by then, anti-climactic and non-consequential results emerged — results that allowed several contestants to declare themselves winners and observers to declare themselves still confused.
The problem? A brand-new, untested phone app that, reminiscent of the hardware first used to launch Obamacare, didn’t work. It was supposed to relay results from more than 1,600 caucuses throughout the state to a central point to be tallied, but a flaw in the app caused an hours-long delay in data transmission.
To make things even more embarrassing, it turns out the Department of Homeland Security had offered to test the new app for cybersecurity flaws and vulnerabilities, according to acting DHS head Chad Wolf, but the state party didn’t take him up on it. Wolf admitted that his organization’s check would likely not have uncovered the performance issue, but who knows?
“Who knows?” incidentally, is the Democratic Party’s new slogan.
To make things worse yet, state party officials intended to report three sets of results: the initial vote totals, the final vote totals (after supporters of candidates who failed to reach 15 percent in each caucus were reallocated) and the winners of delegates to the state convention, which is the “real” result.
To which we say, “Huh?” Is that level of complexity for a preliminary show of support truly necessary?
Brad Parscale, the manager for President Trump’s re-election campaign, hyperbolically called the mess “the sloppiest train wreck in history” — though we have it on good authority that actual train wrecks are much sloppier. Still, imagine being lectured about organization by someone who works for Trump, who hires and fires “only the best people” on a weekly basis. That’s got to hurt.
And since this is 2020, the delay opened the door for goofy conspiracy theories, including one floated by the president’s son: “Yeah, rigging the primary worked wonders for the Democrats last time,” Donald Trump Jr. chortled on Twitter before speeding off to his Flat Earth Society meeting.
For the record, there’s no evidence that any kind of cheating occurred — we should never attribute to malice what can easily be explained by incompetence — but the incident has led to a lot of legitimate questions about whether the Iowa caucus should even still be the first in the nation — so prominent and so influential, with the potential to end candidacies that might do well elsewhere.
Of course, the caucus has its defenders. “Iowa’s unique role encourages a grassroots nominating process that empowers everyday Americans, not Washington insiders or powerful billionaires,” Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a joint statement Tuesday morning.
It also generates millions of dollars in commerce. It’s not going anywhere without a fight.
But is lily-white, agricultural, Protestant Iowa really the best bellwether — especially for a party that champions diversity?
North Carolina wouldn’t be a bad alternative. We’re just sayin’.
We’d also like to suggest this new thing: Hand-counted paper ballots. It’s all the rage among reliability experts.
Oh, yeah, the caucus results: Who cares? The candidates have moved on to New Hampshire for its caucus on Tuesday. Good luck to the candidates — and the organizers. It sounds like they’ll need it.