Both Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are claiming a razor-thin victory in the Iowa caucus, while the Associated Press said it can't determine a winner

By Sean Neumann
February 07, 2020 12:13 PM

Results from the Iowa caucus were expected within hours of voting on Monday night. Instead, three days later, the Associated Press declared it still couldn’t determine a winner because of the race’s extreme closeness and issues in how the votes were counted.

As of Thursday night, according to the AP, 99.94 percent of voting precincts in Iowa had at last reported their results.

After days of counting and “quality control checks” on the results reported from the caucus’ complicated rules, former Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg was just barely ahead of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the “state delegate equivalents,” which is the metric commonly used to determine who won the caucus.

In raw votes, however, Sanders was ahead of Buttigieg by about 2,600.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was in third place while former Vice President Joe Biden was in fourth and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar was fifth.

The Iowa Democratic Party said the bizarre delay in counting the votes was because of “quality control checks” and a “coding issue” with a smartphone app intended to collect the results from the approximately 1,700 voting locations.

RELATED: What Went Wrong During the Iowa Democratic Caucus and Why Some People Are Freaking Out About the Delay

It appears many caucus officials reported their results over the phone, instead of with the app, and relied on paper backups to corroborate the results — though that paper trail had its own problems, given the intricacies of calculating caucus winners.

According to The New York Times, “more than 100 [Iowa caucus] precincts reported results that were internally inconsistent, that were missing data or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses.”

On top of that, the Times reported that “in some cases, vote tallies do not add up. In others, precincts are shown allotting the wrong number of delegates to certain candidates. And in at least a few cases, the Iowa Democratic Party’s reported results do not match those reported by the precincts.”

The Times noted that “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.”

Unlike the voting most Americans are familiar with, in Democratic caucusing people must openly declare their votes in a public meeting that lasts an hour or more, in which those votes can change if someone’s first-choice is knocked out because they don’t get enough support.

Winning candidates then have their votes converted by a formula into “state delegate equivalents” that ultimately determine how many of Iowa’s 41 national delegates they receive at the Democratic convention this summer.

According to the AP, both Buttigieg and Sanders will each earn at least 11 of those national delegates. And each of them declared victory as they head next to New Hampshire’s primary on Tuesday.

“What I wanna do today, three days late, is to thank the people of Iowa for the very strong victory they gave us for the caucuses Monday night,” Sanders told supporters in New Hampshire on Thursday.

Sanders added, “I think what has happened with the Iowa Democratic Party is an outrage. That they were that unprepared, that they put forth such a complicated process, relied on untested technology.”

Precinct officials tally votes during a caucus at Lincoln High School in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday.
CRAIG LASSIG/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Iowa Democratic Party fell under heavy criticism following Monday’s debacle, primarily over the hiccups with the app the caucuses used to report votes from precincts around the state amid the caucus’ already complicated format.

“The errors suggest that many Iowa caucus leaders struggled to follow the rules of their party’s caucuses, or to adopt the additional reporting requirements introduced since 2016,” The Times reported. “They show that the Iowa Democratic Party, despite the long delays, failed to validate all of the results fully before releasing them to the public.”

Despite an official winner yet, Buttigieg, like Sanders, said he had emerged successful.

“So we don’t know all the results, but we know by the time, it’s all said and done, Iowa you have shocked the nation,” he said on Monday. “Because by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”

Without a clear winner, the Democratic Party’s kick-off to the 2020 presidential campaign remained basically as muddled as it was before Monday’s caucus.

Historically, despite its small size, the Iowa caucus is seen as helping determine which candidates actually resonate with voters — giving a momentum boost to those successful candidates as they move onto the next primaries, in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

However, the Iowa caucus did little to clear up the Democratic Party’s choice for a presidential nominee to run up against the incumbent, Donald Trump.

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The national Democratic Party has also called for a re-canvass — in which the vote counts are all re-examined, but not done over again — though it’s unclear if one will happen. Tom Perez, the national party chair, later said he wanted only a recanvass of certain caucus locations.

“Just about every election night includes reporting errors,” according to the Times. “They can be difficult to identify, but can often be corrected during a recount or a post-election canvass. This year’s Iowa caucuses are the reverse: Errors are now easy to identify, and hard to correct.”

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