We Don’t Yet Know Who Won Last Night’s Iowa Caucus Clusterf*ck; Here’s What We Do Know

We don’t know who won last night’s Iowa Caucus yet. We know who won 62 percent of the precincts but we don’t where those precincts are or how the delegate allocations will break down. And while there are a number of sites and TV networks who will pore over that 62 percent ad nauseum and crown a de facto winner before there’s an actual one, I don’t feel comfortable adding Autostraddle to that list. We’ll update this post, or create a new one, when we have a winner.

The results of this year’s caucus were always going to resonate a little less than they usually do — sandwiched between the president’s trial in the Senate and tonight’s State of the Union — but the big story out of Iowa last night wasn’t one candidate’s win or another candidate’s loss, it was, ostensibly, the demise of the Iowa caucus.

According to the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP), there was an issue with the application used to transmit results from individual precincts to the IDP headquarters. The issue was not the result of hacking or a crash but, instead, attributed to a coding error in the reporting system. Or, to put it another way: precinct captains were inputting accurate data, the app was storing accurate data but the app was not outputting accurate data in its reports. The IDP caught the issue, thanks to its quality control measures, and began pre-planned backup measures and entered the data manually. All of this — the investigations, the repair of the app, communication with 1600 precincts, the manual transmission and recording of the data — took time, resulting in a substantial delay of the state’s caucus results.

But, because idle hands are truly the devil’s play things, the time between the end of the Iowa caucuses and the release of results has been spent, by some, fomenting conspiracy theories about the delay…so let’s pause and separate fact from fiction, shall we?

Is this the Democratic National Committee’s fault?

No, the Iowa caucus is run exclusively by the Iowa Democratic Party.

Really? No fault at all?

Sorry to disappoint, but these problems are all of the state party’s making.

Everyone likes a good bogeyman, though, and Tom Perez and the DNC make for an easy target. I suppose you could blame the DNC for the fact that the caucus still exists in the first place but that decision came from the Unity Reform Commission. The membership of that commission, established in 2016, was split between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

The death of the Iowa caucus, narrowly avoided after 2016, now feels inevitable and their status as the first state in the nominating process is also in jeopardy. As Kurt Meyer, the chairman of the Iowa’s Tri-County Democratic Party, told NBC News, “There were 49 other states saying, ‘Why does Iowa get to do this?’ And now we just poured a gallon of kerosene on what was a smoldering ember.”

As someone who once made the sojourn to Iowa… as someone who tucked hand warmers into my pockets — which, frankly, I didn’t even know were a thing — to knock on doors in the frigid tundra… as someone who was welcomed into homes in Ames, Iowa and to share cocoa and my candidate’s plans for revitalizing the economy with a prospective caucus goer… as someone who’s seen it all up close and still counts my time in Iowa as one of the seminal moments in my political life, I’m a little heartbroken about it. But nostalgia’s not a reason to stay in a bad relationship, so I welcome the Iowa caucus’ demise.

That said, I’m left wondering: For years, working people — who couldn’t get time off for their jobs to be at the mandatory, in-person caucuses — told the IDP and the DNC that the caucuses were inconvenient, the parties ignored them. For years, the disabled community has complained about caucus locations that are inaccessible and the parties have done nothing. Instead, we consigned the beginning of our nomination process to a state that is 91 percent white, where 21 percent of the electorate are senior citizens and where they disenfrachise anyone ever convicted of a felony. And, if that weren’t infuriating enough: We leave our democracy to a coin toss. Literally.

“We can’t as a Democratic Party continually and justifiably complain about Republicans who suppress the votes of people of color and then turn around and start our nominating contest in two states that, even though they take their role seriously, hardly have any people of color,” Julian Castro rightly assessed during his run for the nomination.

The Democratic National Committee may not have to answer for the problems with Iowa’s reporting app but they — particularly the members of the Unity Commission — should have to explain why it took an app malfunctioning to bring down the Iowa caucus. Why weren’t the voices of working people, the disabled community and black/brown folks enough?

How could the Iowa Democratic Party not anticipate the problems with their app?

This is a difficult question to answer. There were some precinct captains and caucus organizers in Iowa City who voiced some concerns about the app’s reporting feature as recently as Monday morning. It’s not clear yet how seriously the IDP took those concerns.

That said, the IDP’s lack of responsiveness to the reporting issue is consistent with their behavior with respect to this app over the past few months. Fearing a reprisal of the Russian cyberattacks that befell the 2016 election, the IDP had been very secretive about the app. They refused to provide even the most basic details about the app to the public even in the wake of security concerns. It’s hard not to view the IDP as being victims of their own paranoia but, without more details, even that is supposition.

Do we know who’s behind the app now? Do they have any connections to the campaigns?

We do. Campaign finance records have revealed that the IDP paid a company called Shadow for “website development” last year. According to reporting from The Huffington Post, Shadow, which was launched by ACRONYM last year, designed the app. Shadow is led by Gerard Niemira, an alum of the Hillary Clinton campaign, but the company also boast ties to the Obama campaigns, the DNC and the AFL-CIO. Given the trajectory of Democratic party politics since the 90s, nothing about the company’s history raises concerns in my view: if you’re hiring consultants with proven track records of success, those ties are going to exist.

While some quarters of the internet are using Pete Buttigieg’s payments to Shadow to suggest some kind of conspiracy, Joe Biden and Kirsten Gillibrand (along with a host of state parties) also contracted with Shadow so that claim doesn’t really hold much water. According to the Wall Street Journal, Biden and Buttigieg used a Shadow-built app to send texts to supporters and solicit donations though Biden stopped using the app after one use amid security concerns.

The Untold Story of Iowa: Voter Turnout

In addition to eclipsing the caucus’ actual winner, the app issues also obscure a bigger issue for the Democratic Party at large: low voter turnout.

Turnout in Iowa has never been especially high: it reached its highest heights in 2008 when the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama drove turnout up to 240,000. But by 2016, participation in the Iowa caucus dropped by nearly 30 percent and this year — though, again, we don’t have final numbers — turnout appears comparable to 2016. For all the talk of unprecedented excitement about the candidates — there had been talk of 300,000 caucus goers would show up on Tuesday night — and anti-Trump animus driving more people to vote, Iowa’s numbers don’t seem to support that theory. Entrance polls found also reveal that the number of first time caucus goers in Iowa were also down this year, a startling 57 percent drop from 2008.

It’s hard to know what to make of those numbers in isolation. Do they reflect a group of Democratic voters who aren’t as excited about the prospect of getting rid of Trump as polls have suggested? Are Democrats staying home because they are satisfied with any the contenders becoming the nominee? Are they legitimately ready to vote for whomever the Party puts up against Trump? Maybe but if you’re a Party leader or any of the candidates or, you know, just someone who cares about the future of the country, it’s hard to pin your hopes on that.

Political Calendar: What’s Next?

February 4 – Voter Registration Deadline: Arkansas
February 4 – State of the Union; Democratic Responses from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) and Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX)
February 7 – Eighth Democratic debate – Confirmed participants: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Steyer and Yang
February 7 – Voter Registration Deadline: North Carolina*, Oklahoma
February 8 – Voter Registration Deadline: Mississippi, Puerto Rico
February 10 – Voter Registration Deadline: Virginia
February 11 – Voter Registration Deadline: Minnesota
February 11 – New Hampshire Primary
February 12 – Voter Registration Deadline: Massachusetts, Missouri
February 17 – Voter Registration Deadline: Alabama, California*, Ohio
February 18 – Voter Registration Deadline: Arizona, Florida
February 19 – Ninth Democratic debate (Las Vegas, NV)
February 22 – Nevada Caucus
February 24 – Voter Registration Deadline: Colorado*, Georgia
February 25 – Tenth Democratic debate (Charleston, SC)
February 25 – Voter Registration Deadline: Utah*
February 28 – Voter Registration Deadline: Idaho
February 29 – Voter Registration Deadline: Illinois
February 29 – South Carolina Primary
March 2 – Voter Registration Deadline: Washington
March 3 – Super Tuesday: Primaries in Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Democrats Abroad, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia

* Denotes states with in-person registration.

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A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 404 articles for us.


  1. This whole ordeal has been so frustrating, particularly here in Iowa. The developers at Shadow should have known to run stress tests on the app even if the IDP didn’t.

  2. I’m sorry but Shadow and ACRONYM 100% sound like fictional sketchy companies made up for a CBS police procedural and I can’t get over it.

    In seriousness though thanks for this break down! Super helpful!

    • @tlynn You’re absolutely right.

      I nearly included a joke in my piece about how Shadow and Acronym are the most obvious names for Scooby Doo Villains since we found out that Rudy Guiliani conspired with the CEO of “Fraud Guarantee.”

      • like, if a regular person suggested any of these (fraud guarantee!) a scooby doo villain would prolly say ‘too on the nose’…

        thank you for the run down, Natalie. it was the only one i wanted to read.

  3. Hi Natalie! Thanks so much for your election coverage. It has all been awesome and I’m so grateful to know what’s going on without having to sit through the debates.

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