Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
Clouded by doubts on a chaotic day-after, Democratic Party officials planned to release a majority of Iowa’s delayed presidential caucus results by late Tuesday, according to details shared with campaigns on a private conference call.
The news did little to stem rising confusion and concern more than 12 hours after voting ended without the release of a single result in the opening contest of the Democrats 2020 primary season.
State party chairman Troy Price informed campaigns that he would release at least 50% of all caucus results at 5 p.m. EST, but he declined to answer pointed questions from frustrated campaign representatives about when the party would release the full results or how it could ensure their integrity – even whether it would be a matter of days or weeks.
“We will continue to work through the process,” Price said on the call, which was monitored by The Associated Press. “We want to get some results out there.”
At the same time, the leading candidates tried to spin the uncertainty to their advantage, claiming momentum as they pivoted their campaigns to next-up New Hampshire.
“I’m feeling good,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren told a capacity crowd at theater in Keene, New Hampshire, Tuesday morning. “It’s a tight, three-way race at the top. We know that the three of us will be dividing up most of the delegates coming out of Iowa.”
In a sign of the murkiness in the race, it was clear which three candidates Warren was referring to.
The party’s caucus crisis was an embarrassing twist after months of promoting the contest as a chance for Democrats to find some clarity in a jumbled field with no clear front-runner.
Instead, caucus day ended with no winner, no official results and many fresh questions about whether Iowa can retain its coveted “first” status.
The party told campaigns earlier Tuesday that the delay was a result of a “coding issue in the reporting system” that it said has since been fixed. The state party said the plan was to release results “as soon as possible” later Tuesday. It said it had verified the accuracy of the collected data and said the problem was not a result of “a hack or an intrusion.”
Still, there were signs that the process was ongoing and laborious.
Price confirmed party officials were sending volunteers and staffers across the state to retrieve hard-copy results so they could check them against numbers reported from precincts via a mobile app that proved problematic for many users, according to multiple sources working for the state party and granted anonymity to discuss sensitive party information. Many precinct organizers were forced to call-in results, experiencing long delays, while aides entered results from some 1,600 sites manually.
Like Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden also said he was “feeling good” and predicted that the results would be close. Meanwhile, his campaign raised questions about the integrity of the results if and when they are released.
Before leaving Iowa, an attorney for Biden’s campaign issued a letter to the state party raising concerns about “acute failures … occurring statewide” and insisting on “full explanations and relevant information regarding the methods of quality control you are employing, and an opportunity to respond, before any official results are released.”
Other candidates turned to New Hampshire, which holds its primary in seven days.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he had “a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa” once results were posted. “Today marks the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” he predicted.
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, essentially declared victory.
“So we don’t know all the results, but we know by the time it’s all said and done, Iowa, you have shocked the nation,” he said before leaving Iowa. “By all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”
Beyond 2020, the debacle invited fresh criticism about Iowa caucuses, a complicated set of political meetings staged in a state that is whiter and older than the Democratic Party. Many used the moment to question whether it was a quaint political tradition whose time had passed.
The party has tried to accommodate critics before, this year by promising to report three different data points about voters’ preferences, presumably improving transparency. But the new system created new headaches.
State party spokeswoman Mandy McClure said it had “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” forcing officials to try to verify results with “underlying data” and the paper trail.
Some of the trouble stemmed from the buggy app. Organizers at caucus sites reported trouble downloading the app and other glitches. Many turned to a back-up phone system.
In a letter to campaigns Tuesday, the party said the data collected by the app is “sound,” but data it was reported was incomplete.
“While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data,” Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price told campaigns in a somewhat delayed effort to explain the issue. “This issue was identified and fixed. The application’s reporting issue did not impact the ability of precinct chairs to report data accurately.”
Earlier in the night, Iowa Democrats across the state cast their votes, balancing a strong preference for fundamental change with an overwhelming desire to defeat Trump. At least four high-profile candidates vied for the lead in a contest that offered the opening test of who and what the party stands for in the turbulent age of Trump.
It’s just the first in a primary season that will span all 50 states and several U.S. territories, ending at the party’s national convention in mid-July.
For Democrats, the moment was thick with promise for a party that has seized major gains in states since Trump won the White House in 2016. But instead of clear optimism, a growing cloud of uncertainty and intraparty resentment hung over the election as the prospect of an unclear result raised fears of a long and divisive primary fight in the months ahead.
One unsurprising development: Trump won the Republican caucus, a largely symbolic victory given that he faced no significant opposition.
The president eagerly seized on the Democrats’ problems.
“The Democrat Caucus is an unmitigated disaster,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday. “Nothing works, just like they ran the Country.” He added: “The only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night is ‘Trump.'”
Pre-caucus polls suggested Sanders entered the night with a narrow lead, but any of the top four candidates — Sanders, Biden, Warren and Buttigieg — was positioned to score a victory. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who represents neighboring Minnesota, was also claiming momentum, while outsider candidates including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard could be factors.
“We know one thing: We are punching above our weight,” Klobuchar said late Monday, promising to keep fighting in New Hampshire.
New voters played a significant role in shaping Iowa’s election.
About one-quarter of all voters reported that they were caucusing for the first time, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of voters who said they planned to take part in Monday’s Democratic caucuses. The first-timers were slightly more likely to support Sanders, Warren or Buttigieg, compared with other candidates.
The 2020 fight has already played out over myriad distractions, particularly congressional Democrats’ push to impeach Trump, which has often overshadowed the primary and effectively pinned several leading candidates to Washington at the pinnacle of the early campaign season.
Meanwhile, ultrabillionaire Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is running a parallel campaign that ignored Iowa as he prepares to pounce on any perceived weaknesses in the field come March.