Discrepancies in Iowa caucus votes stoke questions

The Iowa caucuses ended this week without the declaration of a winner, as questions grew about discrepancies over the data.

With nearly all of the precincts in the state reporting, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE led Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (I-Vt.) narrowly in the count for state delegate equivalents. But that result was razor-tight, and Sanders actually held the lead on the total number of votes in the first alignment — which doesn't count toward delegates but is still a sign of support.

Both candidates have already declared victory in the caucuses, even though The Associated Press, which typically calls elections, and other news outlets have declined to name a winner in the race amid questions about the accuracy of the results.

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The mixed results seemed sure to foster already mounting disharmony in the party, conjuring memories of the bitter 2016 nominating contest between Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic insiders stay on the sidelines in 2020 race Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 The Hill's Campaign Report: High stakes at last Democratic debate before Super Tuesday MORE and Sanders.

Reviews of caucus results by news outlets and campaigns show a handful of inconsistencies and potential errors.

While there’s no evidence that the tallies were tampered with or intentionally altered, the issues are likely to fuel skepticism in the caucus results and provide fodder for the campaigns to question its final outcome.

One instance of an apparent error in Indianola’s second precinct in Warren County, first noted by The New York Times, shows that billionaire philanthropist Tom SteyerTom Fahr SteyerWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickNevada caucuses open with a few hiccups Hill TV's Saagar Enjeti slams the media's coverage of Deval Patrick's 2020 campaign The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg to face off with rivals at Nevada debate MORE received 50 and 41 votes, respectively, in the first round of caucusing on Monday.

But on the second alignment, both candidates received zero support, a result that flies in the face of caucus rules mandating that a candidate considered viable after the first round of voting — usually by notching at least 15 percent support — cannot lose support in the second round.

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Conversely, in the same precinct, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (D-Mass.) were recorded as receiving zero votes in the first alignment and then picking up 44 and 51 votes in the second, a result that would also violate caucus rules, because candidates that do not have sufficient support in the first round of caucusing are knocked out and cannot win support in the second alignment.

In several precincts, there are cases in which the candidate who got the most votes didn’t end up with the most state delegate equivalents.

In Des Moines's 80th precinct, for instance, Buttigieg received 66 votes on the second and final alignment, while Sanders received 101 votes. Both candidates, however, received the same number of SDEs at the end of the night.

That apparent discrepancy was among several flagged by Sanders’s campaign on Thursday. In a statement, Sanders’s senior adviser Jeff Weaver pointed to those inconsistencies, claiming that they all but undermined the final SDE tabulation.

“Tonight's release of data by the Iowa Democratic Party confirms Sen. Bernie Sanders won the Iowa caucus,” Sanders’s senior adviser Jeff Weaver said. “We also feel confident that the discrepancies we’re providing tonight, in addition to those widely identified in the national media, mean that the SDE count will never be known with any kind of certainty."

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Sanders declared victory in the caucuses on Thursday, noting that he had led by about 6,000 votes in the initial round of caucusing and about 2,500 in the final round of caucusing. In fact, the traditional metric for determining a winner in Iowa is the number of SDEs received.

Elsewhere, in Des Moines's 62nd precinct, the tabulation of votes from the final alignment was notably higher than those counted in the first round of caucusing.

The precinct recorded a combined 784 votes after the first round. But that number jumped to 841 in the final alignment. Under party rules, caucusgoers must show up for the first round of voting if they want to weigh in on the final round.

After the first alignment, caucusgoers can choose to leave or participate in the second round of voting, meaning that the final tally can either remain the same as the first or shrink — not increase.

To be sure, there’s no evidence that the inconsistencies significantly altered the overall order in which the candidates finished. But they have stirred uncertainty in the results among the campaigns and their supporters. That unease prompted Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE to call on Thursday for a recanvass of the the Iowa vote.

Perez later said that only the results from caucus sites with apparent reporting issues needed to be reviewed.

Troy Price, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, acknowledged in a statement on Thursday that the issues surrounding the caucus results were “unacceptable,” but insisted that the party was focused on identifying and correcting any inconsistencies in the data.

“Throughout the collection of records of results, the IDP identified inconsistencies in the data and used our redundant paper records to promptly correct those errors,” Price said. “This is an ongoing process in close coordination with precinct chairs, and we are working diligently to report the final 54 precincts to get as close to final reporting as possible.”