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Iowa Democrats face criticism over missteps at caucus sites

Ryan J. Foley Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa – Four years after the Iowa Republican Party was criticized for mishandling an extremely close caucus, Democratic Party leaders faced similar scrutiny Tuesday over how they and their volunteers handled the state’s signature political event.

The neck-and-neck contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders Monday underscored the complicated math Democrats use to determine the winner and the bumpy process for getting there.

Surprised by the higher-than-expected turnout, organizers reported overcrowded meeting rooms and delays caused by long lines of people registering to vote. Some precinct chairs initially failed to report results due to errors or technological glitches, leaving the nation waiting for a winner to be declared until Tuesday.

Clinton was named the winner after winning by less than four “state delegate equivalents” out of 1,405, the measurement the party uses to calculate caucus-goers’ preferences.

The Iowa Democratic Party said Tuesday that it would not do any recount of the close results. Sanders spokesman Tad Devine said his campaign does not have “any plan or intention” to challenge the results, citing Sanders comments from Monday that the race appears to have ended in “a virtual tie.”

“It is Groundhog Day today,” said John Deeth, a Democratic Party activist who organized caucuses in Johnson County, recalling the 2012 criticism of the state’s Republican caucuses. “And it feels like Groundhog Day. We’re having the same thing happen, just on the other side.”

Deeth said he was concerned that some locations ran out of voter registration forms.

In 2012, Iowa Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn declared Mitt Romney the winner of a tight race. But days later, Rick Santorum was declared the winner when the results were certified. Strawn resigned and the party went through a review to improve its training of volunteers and reporting of results.

That work paid off Monday as GOP officials smoothly handled a record turnout that gave Ted Cruz a victory over Donald Trump.

Tuesday was the Democrats’ turn for criticism and calls for reform.

Jill Joseph, a Sanders supporter, said the Des Moines precinct she attended was too small for the high turnout and the line was drastically slowed because there were only two people signing in the flood of caucus-goers. Dozens of voters left and the precinct, lacking a trained volunteer chairperson, failed to report results.

Activist Julie Stauch of West Des Moines, a Clinton backer, said she heard similar “horror stories” about voter check-ins and registrations being poorly managed and rooms that were packed.

“I think the longterm story is more about poor management by the Iowa Democratic Party and county parties in terms of selecting space,” said Stauch, who chaired a precinct that was packed into a school cafeteria.

Bob Mulqueen, a Sanders precinct captain in Des Moines, said party officials relocated his precinct several miles across town to a school that wasn’t easy to find. “I remember calling my Sanders folks and most of them said, `where the hell is that?“’ he said.

Democratic Party officials said problems were isolated and that the majority of nearly 1,700 precincts went smoothly. They said that it was difficult to find volunteers to run every site and locations willing to house the gatherings, adding that minor glitches were amplified because of the historically close election.

“I think the folks that care about the process did very well last evening, problems aside,” said Danny Homan, a labor leader who is vice chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. “Sometimes stuff just happens.”

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