Top Democrat calls for audit of Iowa caucuses as problems delay final tally

WASHINGTON/MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) – Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez on Thursday called for an audit of the Iowa caucuses after an array of problems delayed results from the party’s first 2020 presidential nominating contest and created uncertainty about their accuracy.

FILE PHOTO: A person holds a sign in support of Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg at his Caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/File Photo

No winner has been declared four days after the caucuses took place in roughly 1,600 locations throughout Iowa on Monday night, and the troubled process has clouded Democrats’ initial efforts to find a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump in November.

“Enough is enough. In light of the problems that have emerged in the implementation of the delegate selection plan and in order to assure public confidence in the results, I am calling on the Iowa Democratic Party to immediately begin a recanvass,” Perez said in a Twitter post.

Under party rules, a recanvass would involve a hand audit of caucus-site math to recount the worksheets and forms that were submitted via telephone and a mobile app on caucus night.

With 97% of precincts counted, Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has 26.2% of state delegate equivalents and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has 26.1%, according to the Iowa Democratic Party.

Buttigieg, ahead in the delegates that will be used to determine a winner, has claimed victory in the race. As has Sanders, who has a slight lead in the equivalent of Iowa’s popular vote, which will not be used to determine a winner.

It was not immediately clear on Thursday when the rest of the results would be released or if the local party would recanvass.

Party officials initially attributed the delays to a technical problem with a new mobile app, but other concerns have emerged through the week, complicating efforts to release the final tallies.

The Iowa Democratic Party received an “unusually high volume of inbound calls” to its caucus hotline on Monday night from “callers who would hang up immediately after being connected, supporters of President Trump who called to express their displeasure with the Democratic Party, and Iowans looking to confirm details,” a party official said on Thursday.

Party staff worked to flag and block repeat callers who appeared to be attempting to jam the lines and interfere with the reporting of caucus results, and the call volume was “highly irregular” compared to previous caucuses, the official said.

The New York Times has also reported that more than 100 precincts reported results that were inconsistent, had missing data or were not possible under the caucus rules, casting doubt on the count.

The Iowa Democratic Party declined to comment on inconsistencies and has said previously they would use photos of the results and a paper trail to ensure an accurate count.

Both parties have criticized Iowa’s process.

Trump took another swipe at Democrats over the Iowa caucuses during an address celebrating his acquittal on impeachment charges.

“They can’t count some simple votes and yet they want to take over your healthcare system,” said Trump.

However, his own party switched the declared Iowa winner two weeks after its Iowa caucuses in 2012.

Sanders, while campaigning on Thursday in New Hampshire, which hosts the next nominating contest early next week, said it was a “screw-up” that was unfair to all candidates.

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Former Vice President Joe Biden, once considered the Democratic front-runner nationally but lagging in fourth place in Iowa behind Senator Elizabeth Warren, said on Wednesday the process was “a gut punch.” 

After Iowa’s reporting issues and delays, the Nevada Democratic Party, which hosts its caucus on Feb. 22, is “scrapping both the app and ties to Shadow,” the company that developed caucus-reporting apps for both Iowa and Nevada, party spokeswoman Molly Forgey said.

“Luckily for us we had a series of backup plans in place and, given the situation or any particular scenario, we had a backup plan,” Forgey added.

Reporting by Amanda Becker in Washington and Michael Martina in New Hampshire; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman

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