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Sanders Wants an Audit of Iowa Results, But It Likely Won't Change Anything

The senators' supporters allege misconduct, incompetence and voter fraud at the caucuses. But even if that were proven, there is precious little they can do, because Iowa's caucuses are a very weird creature.
Photo by Michael Reynolds/EPA

Bernie Sanders' campaign is asking the Iowa Democratic Party to investigate the results of Monday's caucuses, following allegations of miscounted votes and even fraud.

Sanders, who lost by a thread to Hillary Clinton in Iowa, wants documentation certifying the election results. But the problem for his team is that Iowa conducts elections through caucuses, in which individuals must show up to a precinct at a specific time and vote, not through a ballot or written word, but with their physical presence.


The complex voting process feels as if it is from another time, requiring individuals to stand in, say, the Hillary Clinton corner of the gym while their neighbors beg them to move to the Bernie Sanders side of the room and an arbiter, typically another average person, counts them one by one. This process can go through several rounds and eventually, the caucus leader takes the numbers and sends them to the state party. This year, caucus leaders used a new app created by Microsoft for this purpose. The state party then reports not the vote count, but the number of delegates that said vote count represents to the campaigns and the public.

On Monday night, that process degenerated into a mess that even the Des Moines Register, the state's largest paper, called "a debacle, period" in a scathing editorial Thursday. Caucus-goers caught on video several precincts that lost either votes or voters, showing confusion and math that didn't quite add up. This was due in part due to a lack of preparedness and training on the part of some of the people running the individual caucuses. The race between Clinton and Sanders was decided by a coin toss in at least six of these precincts -- but possibly seven or or even 13, depending on who you talk to.

Sanders' team initially accused the Democratic Party of leaving 90-some precincts without a neutral overseer to verify the results, an allegation the party has denied. Sanders called for a recount Monday night before dropping the issue Tuesday. But the Register reported Thursday that the campaign is back at it, as reports of problems continue to surface.


According to the Register, Sanders is now asking the party to release the vote counts received in the app from caucus leaders. And not just the vote tallies, but any written documentation of the vote-counting process and any numbers the individual caucus heads took down, so that the campaign can compare the numbers. So far, the Democratic Party has refused on both counts.

It's unclear how such a process would work. Because of the quirks of the caucus system, a typical recount is impossible and any documentation the Sanders campaign receives could also be flawed.

Sanders supporters are furious and have been blanketing Facebook, Twitter and Reddit with claims that Clinton is responsible for the voting problems, and stole the election. Neither Sanders nor his campaign have linked the issue to Clinton. But regardless, memes like this one are rampant:.

The issue plays into an easy narrative for Sanders' supporters and has allowed them to delegitimize the contest, treating it as a true win, rather than a near-tie. Sanders supporters, after all, are backing an anti-establishment candidate, a self-proclaimed Socialist; they are already primed to believe that the party -- or even Clinton herself -- is capable of intentionally skewing an election against them.

When Sanders allies in New York dropped off 85,000 petitions at City Hall on Wednesday to get Sanders on the state ballot, they almost universally referred to the Iowa results as a win, to the shouts and applause of supporters. But when he was asked about the accusations of voter fraud, Eddie Kay, a major union organizer from New York who volunteered for Sanders in Iowa, quipped: "It's a terrible thing that she had to cheat to win."


New York state Sen. Tom Duane, who also attended the event and is a major Sanders backer, said the Iowa caucuses are an environment that "make[s] it easy for mischief to be made".

But, he added, "whatever happened in Iowa, it's ultimately not important to the campaign," given that Sanders had such a strong showing there.

"I don't mean we should ever let go of the issue of how it is that we caucus or nominate … but all that said, I think that Bernie Sanders is going to leave that controversy in the dust because I really believe that he's going to be winning a lot of delegates in a lot of states and I think he's going to go on to be the Democratic nominee," Duane said. "And then we can all go back and make sure that that kind of -- the potential for fraud is no longer a potential."

It's unclear what Sanders' campaign could get, even if allegations of mistakes or fraud are proven.

The race between Clinton and Sanders was incredibly close, culminating in a two-delegate-deficit for Sanders at the end of the night. A total of 171,000 people voted on caucus night for 44 delegates to the national convention of the DemocraticParty; 23 delegates will go to Philadelphia in the summer to support Clinton and another 21 will go for Sanders. Any missteps by vote-counters or fraud would have to have been incredibly widespread to have any effect on that final delegate count.

The Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.