Iowa caucuses fail to declare Democratic winner after major snafu with reporting results

Iowa Dems cited "inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results."

February 4, 2020, 9:46 AM

DES MOINES, Iowa -- For more than a year, the Democratic presidential contenders have been camping out in Iowa, pitching their case to the first-in-the-nation caucus-goers for why they should be the party’s nominee in July.

From campaign stops to house parties to rallies in every corner of the state and across Iowa's 99 counties, the candidates took to the stump to outline their vision for the country, rebuke President Trump, call for party unity, and make subtle contrasts with their rivals all in the hopes of persuading some of the most coveted primary voters to back their campaign.

The highly-competitive race now enters an even more critical phase amid the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Monday’s caucuses.

Here's how the night unfolded

9:17 a.m. Iowa Democratic Party: 'Our ultimate goal is to ensure that the integrity and accuracy of the process continues to be upheld'

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price released a new statement Tuesday morning, saying, "While our plan is to release results as soon as possible today, our ultimate goal is to ensure that the integrity and accuracy of the process continues to be upheld.”

“We have every indication that our systems were secure and there was not a cyber security intrusion," Price added. "In preparation for the caucuses, our systems were tested by independent cybersecurity consultants."

It became clear that there were "inconsistencies" as precinct caucus results began coming in and the Iowa Democratic Party ran them through an accuracy and quality check, according to Price, who noted that the "underlying cause of these inconsistencies was not immediately clear, and required investigation, which took time."

Price said the pre-planned backup measures of calling in results and entering the data manually "took longer than expected."

“As part of our investigation, we determined with certainty that the underlying data collected via the app was sound. While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data," he said. "We have determined that this was due to a coding issue in the reporting system. This issue was identified and fixed. The application’s reporting issue did not impact the ability of precinct chairs to report data accurately. "

“Because of the required paper documentation," he added, "we have been able to verify that the data recorded in the app and used to calculate State Delegate Equivalents is valid and accurate."

Precinct level results are still being reported to the Iowa Democratic Party, according to Price.

ABC News' Kendall Karson reported and Morgan Winsor contributed.

2:12 a.m. Iowa Democratic Party: Results expected 'later today'

In a brief statement read to reporters during a telephone call early Tuesday morning, Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said, "We expect to have numbers to report later today."

"The integrity of our process and the results have and always will be our top priority," Price continued. "At this point, the [Iowa Democratic Party] is manually verifying all precinct results."

"We want to emphasize that this is a reporting issue, not a hack or an intrusion," he added. "And that's exactly why we have a paper trail and systems in place to uphold the integrity of our process. They are validating every piece of data we have against our paper trail. That system is taking longer than expected, but it's in place to ensure we are eventually able to report results with full confidence. We have said all along we have these backups in place for exactly this reason."

Price, who took no questions from reporters, said the party is updating the campaigns and will continue to do so.

ABC News' Kendall Karson reported and Morgan Winsor contributed.

12:40 a.m. Many Iowans still struggling to report results

Several campaigns tell ABC News they have not been given a timeline for data release-- an additional delay that could prove disappointing for the "real winner" who spent tons of time and money and effort in Iowa hoping for a big moment on Monday.

Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the Allamakee County, Iowa Democratic Party is still on hold to try and verify that her results went through.

"The app worked. I just couldn't confirm the data got submitted," Lori Egan told ABC News' producer Jon Schlosberg.

By midnight EST the 25th precinct secretary sat in the empty venue, the basement of an armory in Cedar Rapids. She had been trying to get through to report by phone the results from the caucus that ended just after 9 p.m. At one point her phone timed out and she had to call back and once again be placed in the queue.

The hold music interrupted every 2 minutes with the message “thank you for calling the Iowa Democratic party’s caucus hotline. All of our representatives are currently busy. Your call will be answered in the order it was received. We look forward to talking to you soon.”

Eventually, the custodian told her to leave. She left, still on hold. And is prepared to remain on hold as long as it takes.

Earlier, ABC News spoke with Linda Langston the 25th precinct chairwoman who said they learned days ago there could be a problem with the app to record results, so they were asked to call in the results. They were supposed to call in four reports during the caucus.

The first time they called they were told only to report at the end. When they did that they were put on hold.

She suspects a fair number of the 1,600 precincts are in the same boat.

“I think the world is waiting,” she said.

She said the state Democrats waited until the last minute to install the app, and there may not have been enough training.

She was clearly frustrated following a night that went otherwise smoothly.

Sean Bagniewski, the chairwoman of the Polk County Democrats, the largest county in the state, said that among their 177 precinct chairs, a few were having issues logging in and downloading the app starting last week. But they recommended, like past years, for their precinct captains to call in the results.

All the lines have been busy tonight - and they have "no clue" why the phones lines are not working. Bagniewski said he has not been given any information about when to expect results.

Judy Downes, the executive director of the Polk County Democrats, he said, told the captains to start taking photos of their results and text them to her. She drove to caucus headquarters, in Des Moines' Iowa Events Center, and she was turned away.

When asked if he has any concerns about the integrity of the caucus process or Iowa's status as first in the nation, he would only say, "It will make more sense when we know what's going on."

He also did note Polk County had a "good night" and only a few precincts were "contentious" and required coin flips, where more candidates become viable than there are delegates available (in super small precincts), in which a coin flip breaks the tie, leaving at least one of the candidates out of luck.

ABC News' Midwest Radio Correspondent Ryan Burrow and Kendall Karson reported

11:52 p.m. Biden general counsel asks for explanation before results released

Former Vice President Joe Biden's general counsel said the campaign wants a fuller explanation about "inconsistencies" in the caucuses results and a full accounting for the methods used to verify those results before they are released.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters with his wife Dr. Jill Biden during his caucus night watch party on Feb. 03, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters with his wife Dr. Jill Biden during his caucus night watch party on Feb. 03, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“I write on behalf of the Biden for President Campaign regarding the considerable flaws in tonight’s Iowa Caucus reporting system. The app that was intended to relay Caucus results to the Party failed; the Party’s back-up telephonic reporting system likewise has failed. Now, we understand that Caucus Chairs are attempting to — and, in many cases, failing to — report results telephonically to the Party. These acute failures are occurring statewide," Dana Remus the campaign's general counsel wrote. "We appreciate that you plan to brief the campaigns momentarily on these issues, and we plan to participate. However, we believe that the campaigns deserve 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. We look forward to hearing from you promptly.”

11:27 p.m. Iowa Democratic Party: 'We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results.'

"We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results. In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report. This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results," Iowa Democratic Party Communications Director Mandy McClure said in a statement.

11:25 p.m. Candidates speak to supporters as results delays stretch on

As the delays continued, candidates began coming out to speak with supporters who had expected at this point in the evening to celebrate.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar rallied her supporters and vowed that she would be getting on a plane to take her momentum on to New Hampshire.

“We are feeling so good tonight and I cannot wait. Somehow, some way I'm going to get on a plane tonight to New Hampshire. And we are bringing this ticket to New Hampshire," she said. "So even in a crowded field of candidates, even during the well earned impeachment hearing of Donald J. Trump, which kept me bolted to my senate desk for the last two weeks, we kept fighting. And you kept fighting for me.”

It was a sentiment that former Vice President Joe Biden shared when he took the stage minutes later declaring to his supporters "On to New Hampshire!"

11:06 p.m. Still no precincts reporting -- by this time last cycle, about 90% of vote was in

There are still 0% of precincts reporting.

For context: By this time last cycle, we had about 90% of the vote in.

The reporting app is new this year, and while the party touted it would help streamline results, they were prepared with a fail safe. The app was only one option of reporting, precinct captains also have an alternative to report the results: They can call in the results over the phone, which was historically the method for reporting, and they also introduced preference cards this year to be able to confirm any of the results with a paper trail.

The party declined to comment on who the cyber security vendor they were working with on the app and in mid-2019, the Iowa Democratic Party had to forgo their planned "virtual caucuses" due to security concerns over the integrity of the process.

PHOTO: People take part in a Caucus at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., Feb. 3, 2020.
People take part in a Caucus at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., Feb. 3, 2020.
Eric Thayer/Reuters

ABC News' Quinn Scanlan contributed to this report.

10:50 p.m. Iowa Democratic Party: 'Delay in the results due to quality checks'

Amid ongoing criticism about continued delays in reporting the results in the much anticipated Iowa caucuses, the Iowa Democratic Party sought to offer a window into the issue.

"The integrity of the results is paramount. We have experienced a delay in the results due to quality checks and the fact that the IDP is reporting out three data sets for the first time. What we know right now is that around 25% of precincts have reported and early data indicates turnout is on pace for 2016," Iowa Democratic Party Director Mandy McClure said in a statement.

However, as the delays continued ABC News Political Director Rick Klein pointed out that ""As this night goes on, whoever the winner is gets a little bit less of a bump>"

10:39 p.m. More ABC News entrance poll reporting

Among those chiefly looking for the candidate who can defeat Donald Trump, 24 percent support former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; 23 percent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Further evidence of Buttigieg’s remarkable cross-group appeal: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wins more liberals than moderates by better than 2-1. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren wins more liberals than moderates by 3-1. Biden wins more moderates than liberals by 2-1. Buttigieg wins almost equal numbers of liberals and moderates alike.

10:18 p.m. Result reporting is slow going as officials do "quality control"

Hours after the caucuses started, the process of full tallying results has been slow going as technical issues delay the Iowa caucus results

Iowa Democratic Party officials say "People are still caucusing and they are working hard on quality control, checks and security around the results they do have."

Here's part of why this year's process is a bit different than previous cycles.

Caucusgoers declare their support for a candidate by physically moving to a designated space in the room. The process, which traditionally takes hours but has been shortened this cycle, ultimately divides the entire room into groups based on the candidate they’re backing. The precinct captains tally the number of caucus-goers in each group - this is what is known as the first alignment.

At most precincts, a presidential contender needs support from at least 15% of the vote at that caucus site to be eligible to receive any delegates. But in precincts with less than four delegates, the threshold is slightly higher -- since the delegates cannot be split between multiple candidates.

Candidates who reach the 15% threshold are considered to be "viable," at which point their support is locked in and cannot go down. Caucusgoers that are part of viable groups can turn in their presidential preference cards, which marks their choice for president, sign them and go home. The cards are important for creating a paper trail, allowing for a recount if needed.

But for those caucusgoers in the room that are part of nonviable groups, meaning they backed a candidate who failed to cross the 15% threshold, they have a few options in the second round, which is called realignment: they can move to a group supporting a viable candidate; they can join another candidate’s nonviable group to help that candidate become viable or attempt to persuade other caucus-goers to join their group and earn enough support for their first choice to make that candidate viable; they can move to the uncommitted group; or they can go home.

After the realignment is over, caucusgoers fill out their presidential preference cards, sign it and turn it in. This is what is known as the final alignment.

This cycle, the Iowa Democratic Party streamlined the caucus process, giving caucusgoers only up to two opportunities to declare their pick for president.

9:34 p.m. Bloomberg counterprogramming and campaigning in California

As other 2020 presidential candidates fight for a win in Iowa on caucus day, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is campaigning in California. He launched a canvas kick-off event in Sacramento, his second stop on a four-city swing across the major Super Tuesday state.

The former New York City mayor’s visit comes right as early voting begins for the state’s primary election, which features 415 delegates compared to Iowa’s 41. All in all, California has more delegates than all first four early voting states combined.

PHOTO: Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, right, speaks at a campaign event at the Dollarhide Community Center in Compton, Calif., Feb. 3, 2020.
Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, right, speaks at a campaign event at the Dollarhide Community Center in Compton, Calif., Feb. 3, 2020.
Scott Varley/The Orange County Register via AP

It's all part of Bloomberg's overall campaign gambit: Bypass the four early states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and New Hampshire -- and key in on the Super Tuesday spots with a high delegate yield. Moreover, he’s specifically honing in on the swing states Trump picked up in 2016 that Democrats “should” have won, like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

Last week, the Democratic National Committee eliminated the individual donor threshold to qualify for the primary debate being held in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, opening the door for Bloomberg to face off against his competitors for the first time in a national debate since he entered the race.

In a one-on-one with ABC News, Bloomberg said if any of his 2020 rivals have a problem with the DNC rule changes, they should take it up with the committee.

Several candidates, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, have criticized the DNC’s decision to drop the donor requirements for the next Democratic debate, opening the door for the billionaire businessman to make the stage.

When asked if that decision was fair to candidates like California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, all minority candidates who struggled with fundraising before suspending their respective campaigns, Bloomberg didn’t answered directly but admitted the changes strengthen his chance to make his case to voters.

“I didn’t do it. Talk to the DNC. But what the DNC did do is they took money out of it, so -- because you don’t have to raise a certain amount of money, All you have to do is show that the public wants to be able to consider you in the election,” Bloomberg told ABC News adding that he is confident he will make the Nevada debate.

ABC News' Briana Stewart, Quinn Scanlan and Sasha Pezenik contributed to this report.

9:12 p.m. Plenty of miles on those campaign buses

Democratic candidates crisscrossed Iowa leading up to the caucuses, making nearly 400 stops collectively, with more than 330 days spent in the Hawkeye State while holding more than 2,300 events.

9:06 p.m. Navigating the Iowa caucuses as a voter with disabilities can be tough

Unlike a primary where voters cast traditional ballots from home or in a booth, the Iowa caucuses require voters to show up in person, talk with their neighbors and wait to be counted. Everyone in favor of one candidate moves to one corner -- those who like someone else -- stand across the room.

There is debate and regrouping through multiple stages. It can take hours.

PHOTO: Numbers are tallied during for Democratic presidential candidates during the 2020 Iowa Caucuses at West Des Moines Christian Church in West Des Moines, Iowa, Feb. 3, 2020.
Numbers are tallied during for Democratic presidential candidates during the 2020 Iowa Caucuses at West Des Moines Christian Church in West Des Moines, Iowa, Feb. 3, 2020.
Jim Bourg/Reuters

"When you have chronic pain and fatigue, that's not particularly fun. And I'm worried most about all the people who don't caucus because of barriers like that." Smith said that last year it took over an hour to get to the caucus site from work because of limited transportation --- a physically exhausting endeavor by the end of the night," Emmanuel Smith, a local advocate for Americans living with disabilities told ABC News.

Read more here.

8:57 p.m. Iowa caucuses considered a 'crucible' of 2020 primary: Here's how they work

Confused by the rushing to and fro and raised hand counting underway in the caucuses? Here is what you need to know about the 2020 Iowa caucuses.

8:54 p.m. ABC News FiveThirtyEight weighs in on the Iowa counties to watch

FiveThirtyEight elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich speaks with Galen Druke about which counties are the ones to watch as Iowa caucus results come in.

8: 52.p.m. More preliminary results from the Iowa Democratic caucus entrance poll

Biden plummets in two particular groups: First, among younger voters – he has single-digit support among caucus-goers younger than 45. The second: Voters focused on a candidate who’s closest to them on the issues. While this group represents a minority of participants, just 6 percent of them back Biden in their initial preference. Further, Biden does especially well among those focused on foreign policy – but it’s last on the issues list.

Buttigieg’s cross-group appeal is evident in the issues list: His support levels are about the same among caucus-goers focused on health care, climate change and foreign policy alike, albeit dropping off among those most concerned with income inequality. Sanders also does well across three issues, in his case income inequality, climate change and health care, with a drop-off among foreign policy voters. Warren does her best among those focused on income inequality.

ABC News' pollster Gary Langer.

8:29 p.m. Amid concerns about lack of diversity in early contests, 91% in tonight’s caucuses are white

Another result marks the comparative lack of racial or ethnic diversity among Iowa caucus-goers, compared with Democrats elsewhere. Ninety-one percent in tonight’s caucuses are white.

While the top tier jockeys for the top spot in the Iowa caucuses, the state is contending with challenges of its own over its outsize influence on the primary race and its homogeneous population that doesn't reflect the diversity of the Democratic Party or much of the rest of the country.

In 1976, four years after the state claimed it's position at the front of the calendar, then-candidate Jimmy Carter, an underdog in the presidential contest, snagged a surprise victory in Iowa -- putting his upstart campaign on a track to the nomination and setting the state on a course to become a marquee primary contest. Carter's victory soon became a model for ensuing presidential hopefuls who could seek to capitalize on the first-in-the-nation caucuses and catapult their campaign to notoriety.

PHOTO:In this Jan. 26, 2020, file photo, people cheer as democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Sioux City, Iowa.
In this Jan. 26, 2020, file photo, people cheer as democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Sioux City, Iowa.
John Locher/AP, FILE

But throughout the 2020 contest, which encompassed the most diverse Democratic field at its peak of candidates, Iowa has often been the target of criticism -- even by some presidential contenders -- for its lack of representation and diversity. The state is 91% white, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Allamakee County, one of the whitest corners of one of the whitest states in the country, a community of immigrants from six continents is challenging popular assumptions about politics, economics and cultural assimilation.

Meanwhile, some Iowa Democrats continue to defend the state's premier status and argue that it is diverse enough.

"Listen, I can't change the demographics of the state of Iowa. But what I can say is that by the nature of this process and helps elevate voices in a way that you don't see in a primary," Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price told reporters Friday. "We do have diversity here in the state and because of the caucus process, it is able to lift those voices up."

8:23 p.m. ABC News projects that President Donald Trump will win the Iowa Republican Caucuses.

Based on an analysis of the vote in so far, ABC News projects that Donald Trump will win the Iowa Republican Caucuses.

8:03 p.m. Liberals appear to dominate so far, preliminary ABC News exit poll results find

Liberals dominate in tonight’s Iowa Democratic caucuses, preliminary ABC News entrance poll results find – but ideology only goes so far: Far more caucus-goers are focused on defeating Donald Trump than on the candidate closest to them on the issues.

Sixty-seven percent of caucus goers identify themselves as liberals, nearly matching the record high in the 2016 entrance poll. At the same time, caucus-goers by 62-36% also say they’d rather see the party nominate the candidate with the best chance of winning in November than the one who “agrees with you on major issues.”

On one hotly debated issue, 60% support a single, government-run health insurance plan – an approach backed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – vs. 36% opposed. Candidate support follows, with better results for Sanders and Warren along among single-payer supporters than opponents.

Whatever that policy preference, health care is by far the top issue out of four that were tested in the entrance poll. Forty-one percent of Democratic caucus participants call health care the most important issue in their choice; of the rest, 21% t pick climate change; 17%, income inequality; and 14%, foreign policy.

Political independents account for two in 10 caucus-goers, on target with past years. There are fewer first-time caucus attendees – 35%, vs. 44% in 2016 and even more, a record 57%, in 2008.

Among other groups, both younger and older caucus-goers are of interest, given their stark divergence in 2016 and in polling this year as well, with far stronger support for Sanders among younger voters. In preliminary results tonight, 42% of caucus-goers are younger than 45, about half of them under 30 – both similar to four years ago. Across the age spectrum, 30% are seniors in these preliminary results – again similar to 2016, and a strong group for Joe Biden.

Demonstrating the greater challenges marshaling support in a crowded race, Sanders’ support among participants younger than 30 is running at about 50% tonight, vs. 84%in 2016. He’s also fallen off sharply among 30- to 44-year-olds. That said, Hillary Clinton won 69% of seniors in 2016; Biden is winning half as many tonight.

The entrance poll asked whom tonight’s caucus-goers backed in 2016: Fifty-six percent say Clinton, 30 percent Sanders and 14% someone else. Clinton and Sanders virtually tied four years ago. In this more crowded race, Sanders retains support from more than half of his 2016 backers this year.

Indicating fluidity in the closing days of the campaign, a third of caucus participants say they finally picked their candidate today or in the last few days – about twice as many as said so in 2016, 16%.

While Sanders and Warren do well in initial preference among supporters of a single-payer health care system, opponents of the idea go in another direction, more for Biden and Pete Buttigieg. Sanders is especially popular among “very” liberal” caucusgoers, trailed by Warren, while moderates go more for Biden and Buttigieg. Compared with other candidates, Buttigieg’s support is distributed most evenly among groups.

The entrance poll measures preferences among caucus-goers as they enter the caucuses. The state party will report these results, as well as results after those backing low-performing candidates get a second pick, in addition to, ultimately, final results based on convention delegate allocations

ABC News' pollster Gary Langer.

8:03 p.m. Early entrance poll estimates suggest 4-way race

Based on early entrance poll estimates, it looks like a four-person race so far between Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Buttigieg, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in initial preferences.

What to know about tonight: Iowa caucuses kick off 2020 race to the White House

PHOTO: Signage for the Iowa Caucuses hang in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 25, 2020.
Signage for the Iowa Caucuses hang in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 25, 2020.
AFP via Getty Images, FILE

In the last few weeks, most of the Democratic field -- aside from the four senators stuck inside the U.S. Senate chamber for Trump’s impeachment trial -- have hunkered down in Iowa, making their strongest and most forceful play for caucusgoers, even if it means sharpening their attacks on each other.

The candidates’ closing arguments, which are often threaded into their stump speeches and echoed in TV and digital ads, all center on a refined answer to the question of electability and also show the nuanced differences between the presidential hopefuls, particularly the top tier.

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