Caucus Chaos

Claire McMahon, Scarlet Staff

On February 3rd, almost 200,000 Iowa residents went to their local caucuses to vote for their preferred democratic candidate.

The caucus system, which three states currently use, is widely considered to be outdated.

Holding caucuses made sense when it came into practice over two centuries ago. The voters of a precinct gather to discuss the candidates and make a public vote for the next nominee in their respective party.

In recent years, however, people have begun questioning whether the procedure is an effective component of the election process.

Since caucuses take place during a set time and voters must physically attend the event, it is substantially more difficult to participate in caucuses than in primaries. This might account for the significantly lower turnout rate for caucuses.

There are a number of groups for whom voting in their caucus is out of the question. To name a few examples, active service members, people who are disabled, and those who work night shifts would unfortunately not be able to participate in this stage of the election if they are registered to vote in a caucus state.

Additionally, due to the inconvenience, people who are more passionate are more likely to show up, which means that politically extreme candidates might have an advantage.

A growing movement to make caucuses more accessible has gained little traction.

Due to security concerns, the DNC rejected a proposal to allow residents to vote via phone call. A satellite system that was used for the first time this year, whereby people could create their own remote caucuses, proved to be mostly ineffective in addressing the problem.

Every election has an upsettingly low turnout, but the number of people who show up to Iowa is comparably abysmal, especially considering the amount of weight that the Iowa caucus holds.

This year, a new problem was introduced to the variety of issues that already existed in this flawed system.

For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party used an app created by a tech company called Shadow Inc. to curate the election results. However, what was supposed to be a tactic to improve efficiency ended up contributing to the nearly 24-hour delay of the Iowa Caucus results.

The company had failed to thoroughly test the app before it was used on election night. People encountered problems downloading the app and logging into their accounts.

While the faulty app created major issues for the reporting of the Iowa caucus results, additional complications also came into play.

The backup method of calling volunteers at the caucus headquarters to enter results fell apart. Caucus chairs did not have access to their phones, which were needed to enter the data. Phone lines were clogged, and calls were often on hold for several hours.

Fortunately, there were paper records of the results, so caucus leaders were eventually able to count the votes and report the data. However, the results that caucuses were finally able to report by phone contained mistakes.

Another complication ensued from the fact that there was more data to report this year than in previous years.

In 2016, Hilary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by an incredibly small margin, and Sanders claimed that he had received more votes than Clinton. This concern could not be addressed because precincts had neglected to report the original vote count and only kept a record of the delegate allotment.

As a result, the DNC added accountability rules to the caucus system to ensure that this situation would not reoccur. Caucus leaders are now required to report the original vote counts, in addition to the number delegates allotted to each candidate. This additional data complicated the process.

At a time when people are becoming more and more disillusioned by our election system, this type of chaos could be further detrimental to election enthusiasm.

One positive result of this blunder is that it has the potential to draw attention to the way that we select presidential nominees and might inspire a more serious conversation about rejecting–or at least substantially reforming–the archaic caucus once and for all.