Iowa GOP Examines What Went Wrong With Caucuses

It was one of the logistical lowlights of the 2012 primary.

After a late night of vote counting, the Iowa GOP announced Mitt Romney as the caucuses' tentative winner, having staved off Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes.

"The good news is we were able to verify the vote reports tonight," then-chairman Matt Strawn said at a news conference, noting that Iowa's 1,774 precincts would have two weeks to certify their vote tallies.

Two weeks later, the Iowa GOP announced that Santorum had won by 34 votes.  Eight precincts, meanwhile, could not be certified, and a party official made it clear that the votes would never be counted. A week and a half later, Strawn resigned as party chairman.

The Iowa GOP has now set itself to the task of figuring out what happened and how to fix it next time, having formed an Iowa Caucus Review Committee comprised of 17 party members including county chairs, former state-party officials, party activists, volunteers and supporters of multiple presidential campaigns.

Next Thursday, the committee will convene its first meeting, where it will hear the first round of reports from subcommittees on vote tabulation, public information and volunteer training.

"The mistakes that were made were very fixable," said Bill Schickel, the Iowa GOP co-chairman, who is chairing the committee to revisit caucus mishaps. Schickel and party officials already have some idea of what those mistakes were.

On caucus night, precinct volunteers phoned in results to an automated system after counting votes. When it came time to certify the ballots cast, affirming them on forms supplied by the state party, the caucus-night results did not match and the winner was reversed.

"We had redundancy built into the system, but probably not enough, and the committee will be closely examining that," Schickel said. "Because we did not have redundancy in the system, and because volunteers were doing their patriotic duty of calling in results … I think maybe more of the focus was on that and less was on the follow-up paperwork. Obviously, both aspects of it were important."

Schickel said the committee is consulting with Democrats, and that both parties are "united in our goal" of smooth-running caucuses. He also suggested the debacle of losing votes and prematurely announcing different results wasn't so egregious when put in perspective.

"The good news is we had one of the largest turnouts ever in the Iowa caucuses, it was one of the closest elections in the history of the United States, we had 100 percent of precincts reporting on caucus night, and the final results had better than 99 percent reporting," Schickel said. "And that's a pretty good track record."