The failure to release the caucus’s results on times has led to a revaluation of the entire system. Liam Glen writes on the Iowa Caucus’s antiquated voting system and inflated importance.
Anyone who keeps up with politics was paying close attention to the Democratic Iowa Caucus on Monday. The first election in the presidential primary calendar was supposed to be a milestone that revealed the strongest candidates. Instead, however, spectators received disappointment.
The app which was meant to keep track of the vote experienced technical errors. The final results are only now coming out, showing a near-tie between Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. What was meant to be a pivotal moment in the race instead become an embarrassment for the Iowa Democratic Party.
The blowback has been strong enough, in fact, that it has resurfaced long-standing questions about the Iowa Caucus. From its byzantine voting system to its unrepresentative nature, it seems like a poor system to have such great influence over the nominating process.
The Broken Caucus System
One reason why counting the votes was such a hassle is that Iowa is a caucus rather than a primary. Rather than holding a simple ballot, it has its own complicated system that comes with an array of issues.
There are several important components that any voting system should have. One is that it should be easy and accessible. Any citizen should be able to vote without it being too much of a burden. Another is that it should be private. Peer pressure, or – in the worst-case scenarios – threats and bribery, should not influence anyone’s vote.
The Democratic Iowa Caucus meets neither of these standards. Participants must go to their precinct at a specified time and stand with other supporters of the same candidate through multiple rounds of voting.
To make matters worse, having the most supporters does not guarantee that a candidate will win the caucus. Instead, there is a complicated system for determining how many delegates each one receives. Comparable to the Electoral College, it gives disproportionate influence to rural areas, which can lead to problems such as early results which have shown Bernie Sanders with a lead in the popular vote yet given more delegates to Pete Buttigieg.
To their credit, Iowa Republicans have devised a much better system for holding their caucus. Theirs resembles a more typical primary, complete with a secret ballot. Though, they also use an imperfect system for allotting delegates.
Early State Privilege
The discord following the Iowa vote fiasco also invites an obvious but overlooked question: why are people panicking over this?
The results of the caucus are only a few days late. No one besides impatient political junkies should care about such a short delay. Anyway, Iowa would not seem so important in the grand scheme of things. Of the 3979 pledged delegates in the Democratic Presidential Primary, the Iowa Caucus only determines 41.
The answer is that Iowa is the first election in the race. Its victor automatically gains massive media attention, ascending to the status of frontrunner. Because of Iowa’s special status, presidential hopefuls pay it an incredible amount of attention. They spend as much time as they can attending local events and socializing with residents.
This is, of course, great for Iowans. But it is not so beneficial for the rest of the country. Presidential candidates go out of their way to pander to the Iowa electorate, giving a disproportionate amount of power to the largely white and rural state.
A more logical system would randomize the system in some way, so that a different state starts the primary season each cycle. Or, better yet, the entire country could just vote at the same time, eliminating geographical imbalance.
The vote count controversy has brought all of these concerns to the forefront. For the first time in decades, the Iowa Caucus’s exhausted status is imperiled. It is hard to say that this is anything but for the best.