In years past, there may have been times for me when the beginning of February was a time to look forward to the Super Bowl, or even the State of the Union with other presidents. This year, it was all about the Iowa caucus. After more than a year of anticipation, we were finally going to get some information on what all of that polling, financial news, and stump speech rhetoric added up to on the ground. We were going to take our first steps in selecting a nominee to take on Donald Trump.
But Monday’s event quickly turned into a nightmare, with very little data reported at the outset, and the bulk of data vexingly withheld from public view. As of early Tuesday afternoon, the data has still not been released.
The mix of emotions I’m feeling with what happened is difficult to sum up — disappointment, turned to annoyance, turned to anger, turned to terror. As I’m writing this, the day after results were supposed to be announced, it is the first time I’m losing confidence that the Democrats have what it takes to take out the hugely unpopular man who now occupies the most important office of the land.
The shitshow — there’s simply no other way to put it — we witnessed this week was without a doubt Iowa’s final first-in-the-nation caucus event. Even before Monday’s debacle, many voices in the party were rightly calling attention to the fact that Iowa’s lily-white population does a poor job of representing the diverse Democratic Party. Caucuses, meanwhile, a twisted, evil cousin of ranked-choice voting, have long been identified as a voting technique that horrendously depresses turnout and shuts out large chunks of the population, including those with small children, the elderly and disabled, and those who don’t speak English fluently.
There is no way for party activists to ever again allow a caucus to lead off its nominating contest.
But I hope that it also spells the end of a frightening and misplaced trust in ever newer technologies to safeguard our elections. Part of the problem appears to be that a poorly-tested, unvetted phone app was introduced to aid in reporting and tallying, and then utterly failed. Training on the technology was reportedly nonexistent, and people of all ages seemed to have trouble understanding how to use it.
At the same time, the Iowa Democratic party has not up to now adequately demonstrated why they needed to hold back the election results they claimed were reported. They said late into the night that about 35 percent of precincts had reported data, but they only released results for about 2 percent of the precincts.
If we are to have open and fair elections, we need our election data reported or some damn good reasons why it isn’t. In the interim, unhelpful conspiracy theories abound and what started as technical difficulties is blowing up into something far larger with far scarier implications for the task of taking on Trump. And as a part of that, it is the job now of the investigative teams of local and national news organizations to find out exactly what happened and see what semblance of trust in the process can be explained or restored.
The remaining Democratic contests would be well-advised to check and recheck their systems and scrap any unnecessary or shaky technology they might be depending on. Here’s hoping that the New Hampshire Primary next Tuesday leads to some more tangible outcomes.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.