DES MOINES — With the results of the Iowa caucuses still unclear after nearly a week, the state Democratic Party this weekend was furiously reexamining results from 95 precincts, about 5% of the total.
But when the party delivers its updated results, which it has promised to do Monday, they may hardly reassure candidates and voters. Internal emails from Saturday night reveal that the party will not correct even blatant errors in the official handwritten tally sheets from individual precincts.
Those records, known as “caucus math worksheets,” could not be changed even if they contained mistakes, according to the lawyer for the Iowa Democratic Party, because they were a legal record, and altering them would be a crime.
“The incorrect math on the Caucus Math Worksheets must not be changed to ensure the integrity of the process,” wrote the party lawyer, Shayla McCormally, according to an email sent by Troy Price, chair of the party, to its central committee members. The lawyer said correcting the math would introduce “personal opinion” into the official record of results.
Thanks to greater transparency in reporting the caucus results this year, outsiders were able to identify internal inconsistencies. The New York Times reported last week that some precincts, for example, had awarded more delegates to candidates than they were allotted.
In addition, caucus “captains” for individual candidates photographed the worksheets in their precincts and shared them internally with their campaigns. Those photographs provided further examples of problems. The most blatant were errors in adding up votes for candidates, which take place in two rounds, and miscalculations when using a formula that translates raw votes to “state delegate equivalents.”
But because the caucus chair and secretary of each precinct had certified the results on the worksheets, along with representatives of candidates, the documents could not be readjusted without violating election law, the state party lawyer said.
“It is the legal voting record of the caucus, like a ballot,” McCormally wrote in her opinion. “The seriousness of the record is made clear by the language at the bottom stating that any misrepresentation of the information is a crime. Therefore, any changes or tampering with the sheet could result in a claim of election interference or misconduct.
“The IDP’s role is to facilitate the caucus and tabulate the results,’’ McCormally continued. “Any judgment of math miscalculations would insert personal opinion into the process by individuals not at the caucus and could change the agreed-upon results. That action would be interfering with the caucus’ expression of their preferences. There are various reasons that the worksheets have errors and may appear to not be accurate; however, changing the math would change the information agreed upon and certified by the caucusgoers.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of the two victors of the caucuses along with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, said in an interview with CNN on Sunday that the Iowa contest had been “an embarrassment” and “a disgrace.”
“They screwed it up badly is what the Iowa Democratic Party did,” Sanders said.
In response to pressure by candidates and the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, the Iowa state party permitted campaigns to flag precincts that had problems. On Saturday, it said 95 had been identified by three campaigns — those of Sanders, Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
But the internal emails also show that the party had told campaigns it would not correct bad calculations or other errors on the caucus worksheets. The party notified campaigns that it would only reexamine reported results if presented with “documentary evidence” of “inconsistencies” between the data on the worksheets and the reported results.
“The inconsistencies must show a discrepancy between the Caucus Math Worksheet and the publicly reported results,” the party wrote to campaigns.
In the party lawyer’s opinion, the only recourse a campaign has if it wants to challenge the worksheets is to seek a recount, which would require examining “presidential preference cards” filled out by everyone who attended the caucuses. These cards were collected at the end of the evening and were included in a packet that was sent to state party headquarters by the caucus chairs. The deadline for campaigns to request a recount is noon Monday.
But even a full recount may not be definitive. Several caucus chairs said in interviews that not all caucusgoers had turned in their preference cards. They left into the Iowa evening after performing a proud civic duty, with no hint of the mess to come.