Home Featured News What’s Happening With The Democrat’s Iowa Caucus?

What’s Happening With The Democrat’s Iowa Caucus?

Caucus participant Sophia Egal, center right, holds a sign for presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders before caucusing at the Muslim Community Organization on Feb. 3, 2020, in Des Moines.

The Democratic Party held their Caucus for the state of Iowa on Monday, Feb. 3, and as of 3  p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5, the final results for the event have yet to be released. 

After a historic delay, the Democratic Party has released, as of 3 p.m. today, a majority (75%) of the results, but that still leaves 25% of the data unaccounted for two days after the event and the party has not indicated when it will finish releasing all of the data. 

The results we do have are incredibly close with front runner, Bernie Sanders, winning the most first and second stage votes but his opponent, Pete Buttigieg, winning the most state delegate equivalents (SDEs) from those votes. The number of SDEs a candidate wins determines how many of the state’s delegates a candidate will receive, and how many total delegates a candidate receives from each state is the important factor in whether or not that candidate wins the national nomination.

The number of SDEs a candidate wins determines, but is not actually equivalent to, the number of state delegates the candidate receives. So far, Sanders has received 34,235 of the final vote compared to Buttigieg receiving 33,199, and Buttigieg has won 442 total SDEs compared to Sanders winning 414. If these numbers were to stand as the final count (they will not) both would receive an equal number of state delegates.

This leaves us with a couple of questions. Why have the results been postponed? How has Buttigieg won the most SDEs so far despite gaining less votes than Sanders? And why is this bad for the Democratic party?

Reason for the delay:

 The major reason for the delay seems to be the failed introduction of an app for the reporting of data. 

The Democratic party hired Shadow Incorporated to create an app for county precincts to use in order to report their data, however, the app had numerous issues and failed almost completely. As a result of this many precincts were left on hold trying to call in their data. Shadow Inc. posted an apology for this on their official twitter page.

This has left the Democratic Party in damage control, trying to both collect all of the data while simultaneously trying to ensure the integrity of the data they do collect.

Reason for the discrepancy between votes received and SDEs allocated so far:

Many will be confused when they hear that Buttigieg won the most SDEs so far despite receiving less votes than Sanders. The reason behind this discrepancy is the mathematical formula the Democratic party uses to calculate how many SDEs from each county precinct will go to each candidate. In order to understand this formula, it is important to understand how the Iowa caucus works.

There are, in essence, three parts to the caucus that are all done in one night at a designated school, church, or another public place. The first vote, the final vote, and the calculation of how many SDEs each candidate won by plugging the number of final votes into a mathematical formula. 

The way votes are calculated at the Iowa caucus is by dividing those participating in the caucus into groups based off of their preferred presidential candidates, tallying how many people are in each group and then counting that tally as the number of votes for the group’s respective candidate. This is done two times. After the first vote, any candidate who received less than 15% of the total votes is deemed not viable to receive any SDEs and cut from the second vote. As a part of this second, or final, vote, those who supported candidates who were cut can switch to another, remaining candidate’s group and support them instead as a second option, or they can simply leave the event. 

Once the total tallies for the final vote are calculated they are then plugged into a mathematical formula to determine how the precinct’s SDEs will be allocated between the candidates. This can result in things like candidates receiving the same number of SDEs from a precinct in which their voting numbers were significantly different. 

For example, Shawn Sebastian, the caucus secretary for the Story County Precinct 1-1, posted his precinct’s results on twitter. According to Sebastian, Sanders won 116 final votes while Buttigieg won 73, however, both won 2 SDEs from the precinct. 

This is because the mathematical formula used was the number of final votes each candidate received multiplied by six and divided by the total number of votes (votes received ⨉ 6 ∕ 285). This resulted in Sanders getting 2.44, rounded down to 2 SDEs, and Buttigieg getting 1.53, rounded up to 2 SDEs.

In the case of ties where there are not enough SDEs to go to two candidates, a coin flip is used to decide which candidate receives the final disputed SDE. Buttigieg is confirmed to have won two of these coinflips.

Why this is bad for the Democratic Party:

Naturally, getting the results out late and looking unorganized is never a good thing. Grand Rapids Community College Professor Keith St. Clair pointed out that while this delay is “not normal at all,” this isn’t the first “snafu” to occur at the Iowa caucus for either major political party. The biggest concern, and the biggest problem for the Democratic Party, is the potential for doubt that this delay may cast on the integrity of the results.

“If they come out with the results and they’re late but they’re accurate, it’s not the end of the world,” said St. Clair, “but if it leaves questions in people’s minds as to the legitimacy of the process then we got a problem.”

St. Clair emphasized that trust in the democratic process is integral to democracy and it’s dangerous when that trust is put into doubt.

This delay has also reinvigorated debates and criticism of the Democratic Party surrounding the Iowa Caucus’s position as the first caucus. This is significant because, as the first one in the nation, it tends to establish who are strong and weak candidates, thus influencing the support those candidates receive in other states in the future.

St. Clair spoke on this issue as well.

“It’s problematic that Iowa is the first caucus,” said St. Clair. “It’s not a diverse state. It’s a very white state. It doesn’t reflect the democratic party of today. I think the Democratic Party would be better served choosing a state that’s more reflective of its overall members.”


Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 5, to correct a misspelling of Professor St. Clair’s name. It was also updated at 11:58 p.m. on Feb. 5, to correct a misspelling of Pete Buttigieg’s name and to more clearly define what a State Delegate Equivalent is.