Once again, the integrity of America's election system is in question after the breakdown of Iowa's Democratic caucuses Monday. It wasn't a hack, apparently, but the result was the same: Technology failed. Backup reporting systems failed. Candidates and voters were left without an answer about who won. Republican campaign officials lunged: "They can't even run a caucus and they want to run the government," tweeted one. As the swirling uncertainty stretched into Tuesday, it was a hard point to argue.
But the problem goes beyond Iowa Democrats. More than 70 years after "Dewey Defeats Truman" and two decades after the hanging chads of Florida, America has made precious little progress in its quest for election efficiency and faster, more accurate results. With the nation's elections already facing threats of manipulation from abroad -- at the invitation of the president, no less -- getting the numbers right is more crucial than ever. Both major national parties should be taking the lead in ensuring nothing like this happens again.
By early Monday evening, it was evident that Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses, already numbingly complicated by design, had gone off the rails. Precincts weren't reporting results to the state Democratic Party and the party initially couldn't explain why. During a conference call, party officials reportedly hung up on frustrated campaign officials. By early Tuesday, the campaigns were demanding audits of the results because of the doubt suddenly surrounding them.
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Several Democratic candidates took advantage of the chaos to imply they'd won, knowing the spotlight would shift from Iowa to New Hampshire before the final numbers were out. President Donald Trump, true to form, cynically used the debacle to undermine public confidence in the whole process, suggesting through his campaign -- with zero evidence -- that it was "rigged" against Bernie Sanders (apparently his preferred opponent).
All indications are there was no rigging going on in Iowa, just poor planning complicated by technological failure. A phone app the party planned to use to calculate and report results was passed out to precinct officials without adequate training. When those officials warned it wasn't working right, they were ignored, even after National Public Radio reported on those concerns weeks ago. When caucus workers resorted to calling in their results, inadequately staffed phone lines were overloaded. Some officials just gave up and went home.
The fact that Iowa party officials refused to even identify the maker of the problem app before the caucuses should have been an alarm bell. The last thing any U.S. election or caucus needs to project these days is lack of transparency.
Primaries are state-party functions, but that doesn't mean the national parties can't demand transparency and other minimal standards. It's bad enough that America's president routinely displays his contempt for the sanctity of democracy's most basic mechanism, the vote. Iowa's meltdown has now invited the rest of America to share in that contempt.
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