Iowa 2020 Is a Drag, Not a Disaster

February 5, 2020 by Sean O'Brien
In this Jan. 26, 2020, file photo, people cheer as democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign rally in Sioux City, Iowa. Iowa's Democrats will arrive at their 2020 kickoff caucuses on Monday, Feb. 3 with a emotions and one urgent mission: voting President Donald Trump out of office in November. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

The Iowa Democratic Party did exactly the right thing. In the midst of an awful scenario of its own making, party officials took a step back to ensure that when the final votes are tallied, the announced result would be accurate. That took courage and focus. And it may have saved the overall integrity of the nomination process. 

Here’s some BREAKING NEWS for you: No election has ever been officially determined in a single night. Not city council, not governor, and certainly not president. Absentee ballots, provisional ballots, and results from far-flung precincts continue to be counted long after the winner is declared and the circus leaves town. That’s why inaugurations always take place months after any given election. 

The most important thing in any election is to make sure the votes are counted correctly, and reported transparently. Accuracy and integrity far outweigh the importance of speed and headlines. Let’s be clear – it is neither a disaster, nor a debacle, when results are delayed. Those words should be reserved for times when the will of the people is actually subverted by the thirst for news. Because there are examples enough of that in our recent history.

It was a disaster when the Iowa Republican Party had to sheepishly admit that Rick Santorum had actually won the Iowa caucuses over Mitt Romney, six weeks after the fact. It was a debacle when networks used exit polls to declare John Kerry as the winner of the 2004 election several hours before millions of voters had even cast their ballots. And it was a travesty when Fox News rushed out to declare George W. Bush the winner of the 2000 Presidential election, and every network rushed to follow, when there was still a decisive margin of returns left uncounted in both Florida and New Hampshire. 

These instances and many more were far more damaging to American democracy than a poorly coded app used for reporting – not counting – results. Because in Iowa 2012, Florida 2000, and across the country in 2004, the demand for immediate results skewed the direction of the election itself. It locked narratives in place, depressed voter turnout, impacted recounts and maybe changed the course of history, with a modern day equivalent of DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.  

Fortunately, a bad night in Des Moines notwithstanding, we have actually gotten better at waiting. Networks operated with an abundance of caution in the 2012 and 2016 presidential races even when the results seemed obvious. 2018 brought three Senate races and seven House races which hung in the balance for days. And generally speaking, the process was allowed to play out in each race. 

Which is exactly what should happen now. Every precinct must be recorded accurately, every result must be announced transparently and fairly. That, it appears, is exactly what the Iowa Democratic Party is patiently doing while the political world outside its doors continues to have a collective buttercow. Good for them.

Should there be changes? Of course. Technology should never be rolled out without testing and training. Systems should never go into practice without considering their impact. And yes, for the millionth time we should absolutely question whether Iowa should have such an outsized role in the nominating process to begin with.

But to all the conspiracy theorists, bloviators and number crunchers, go find something else to do for a day or two. Go ski the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Eat some South Carolina barbecue. Pull a slot in Vegas. Just leave Iowa alone for a spell and I’m sure they’ll give us the right numbers when they are good and ready.

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