OTTUMWA — Iowans had questions as Tuesday dawned, both about the winner of the previous night’s Democratic caucuses and the future of a key event for the state.
The Iowa Democratic Party blamed technical issues for the delays in getting results out. The party had planned to begin posting results soon after the caucuses ended Monday. About 62 percent of the state’s total were released at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
To Carole Black, the delay was a clear black eye. She said “there’s always been a question” about whether Iowa should be the first contest in the presidential nominations, and this year’s issues will only increase the volume of those who say other states should lead off.
Black did not caucus on Monday, but said the issue matters to her as an Iowan. The campaigns bring a lot of people to Iowa. Campaign workers live in the state for months. The campaigns rent office space. It’s a lot of revenue for the state, and it all seems at risk.
“It’s embarrassing,” she said. “I think it jeopardizes having the caucuses as the first in the nation.”
Many people drew a distinction between the caucuses themselves and the reporting of the results. April Conley said the process at her caucus location “was different from the last time I went but it did go smoothly.” She questioned why caucus sites weren’t able to call in their results easily. There were widespread reports of difficulties when precincts tried to do so.
Vernon Trucano, who chaired the Democrats’ Dahlonega Township caucus, said the count itself was not a problem. Turning in the numbers was.
“It went really well. We were fortunate,” he said. “I just wish they had a better system. It was hard to report the results.”
Trucano wound up having to call the township’s returns in, which was a significant delay, and was instructed to send a photo of the results tally by email.
Wapello County Recorder Lisa Kent was a precinct captain in Agency. She also pointed to the caucus app as a problem.
“They said the app wasn’t that bad, but I couldn’t get the app to download,” she said. “I finally got it downloaded an hour before it started. I just did it on paper called it in and they were fine and dandy with it. … [Last night] was just embarrassing. At our caucus last night, it was well-organized and we didn’t have a problem.”
Both Supervisor Jerry Parker and fellow Supervisor Wayne Huit questioned whether the state Democratic party had a solid backup plan. So did Zach Simonson, chair of the Wapello County Democratic Party.
Simonson called efforts to collect results in Des Moines “completely disorganized.”
“It was apparent early on that the app was not going to work,” Simonson said. He told people to call in the results, but that plan ran into problems with long delays and people in Des Moines having difficulty hearing in a noisy room.
Even calling in results didn’t always work. Simonson said he had some precinct leaders call in their totals, and then get calls in the middle of the night asking for them. Getting volunteers to handle those duties is already a challenge, and he was concerned the issues Monday would make it harder in the future.
“They could have afforded to get a call center to get those results,” said Simonson.
If there was one word Tuesday to describe the feelings of Simonson and other area Democrats, it was “frustrated.” Local officials felt they did their jobs and came through on caucus night, only to be let down by a balky app and the state party’s failure to have adequate backup arrangements.
Concerns about the results go well beyond those who participated in the Democratic caucus. It’s an issue for all Iowans. Sheri Locke-Smith is the co-owner of Top Hat Coffee, which hosted several candidate visits in Ottumwa. She said the problems in getting caucus results and the questions about the event’s future are a real concern.
“We like hosting both sides,” she said. “We like being the place where people come. It’s an interesting time.”
If the caucuses were to lose their leadoff spot in the nominating process and fewer candidates campaigned in Ottumwa, it would mean a bit of lost business for Locke-Smith. But she said that business is a nice boost, not a threat to whether the doors stay open.
“That would affect us,” she said, “but we have a very good local following.”
Trudy Caviness, chair of the Wapello County Republican Party, said the problems are “just fueling the fire” for those who would like Iowa removed from its spot as the leadoff contest.
“It’s a concern. I honestly wish it would have gone perfectly last night for both of us,” she said. “I’m very concerned about the first-in-the-nation status.”