That there is no winner — or even a single tabulated result — reported by the party early Tuesday morning (or even a time to expect that result) speaks to the depth of the issue in what is the one major job of officials in every election: counting the votes.
As Iowa Democratic Party officials scrambled to explain what had gone wrong — “inconsistencies” in the tally — they were careful to note, in the words of a party spokeswoman, “this is not a hack or an intrusion.”
Which is a good thing! But, it’s hard to imagine a worse time for our election system to falter than right now as election integrity is the question at the center of many conversations.
Prior to that impeachment investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller spent almost two years looking into Russian’s deep and broad attempts to influence the 2016 election — ultimately concluding that, yes, Russia worked to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton because they believed the billionaire businessman would be better for their own long-term interests.
While Trump has repeatedly insisted that the entire Mueller probe was a hoax, the intelligence community as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee have drawn conclusions similar to Mueller: Yes, Russia sought to meddle and, yes, they wanted Trump to win and worked to that end.
And, in every after-action report — from within the administration and from without — there is a consensus that Russia will (and is) trying to again influence our elections.
“We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 US elections as an opportunity to advance their interests,” then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee in January 2019. “We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences and efforts.”
To be clear: There is no evidence that the “inconsistencies” in the Iowa caucus vote are due to any sort of foreign interference. But, what happened on Monday night — and continues to happen Tuesday — is a debacle, plain and simple.
The first goal — and, really, the only goal — of election officials in any race is to ensure that the voters and the candidates believe in the fairness and the accuracy of the result even if it’s not what they had hoped for. Is there any way that any of the candidates will feel that way when the Iowa Democratic Party announces the results from Monday night?
It’s simply hard to imagine, given what we all witnessed play out on national TV Monday night, that some campaigns won’t try to cast doubt upon the numbers in a way they would not have been able to if the reporting of the tally had been seamless.
That’s obviously problematic for the candidates who appeared to be be overperforming and potentially headed to a victory. But it’s an even bigger problem for faith in our democratic institutions — for us to be able to trust that when we vote, that vote will be accurately counted and reported.
When you consider that Trump suggested with zero proof that 3 to 5 million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election — an election he won! — you can see where a broad erosion in our elections could have disastrous consequences moving forward in 2020.
And it’s only just beginning.