DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – The Democratic Party’s bid to choose a candidate to take on Donald Trump at the Nov.3 U.S. presidential election was in disarray on Tuesday, after technical problems delayed vote counting in Iowa to the dismay of the party faithful and the delight of the Republican president.
There was still no winner on Tuesday morning from Monday’s Iowa caucuses voting, with officials blaming “inconsistencies” related to a new mobile app used for vote counting in the state that traditionally kicks off a U.S. presidential election year.
It was a clumsy start to 2020 voting, after a bad-tempered presidential campaign four years ago that produced a surprise winner in Trump and led to a two-year federal investigation into election interference by Russia.
The head of Iowa’s Democratic Party promised to release results “as soon as possible” on Tuesday but said the top priority was ensuring the integrity of the process and accuracy of the results.
“Every second that passes undermines the process a little bit,” said Roger Lau, campaign manager for U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Trump mocked the Democrats, calling the caucus confusion an “unmitigated disaster” in a Twitter post on Tuesday.
Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, expressed frustration with the delayed results on Tuesday, after having said at a late-night rally he was going to the next early voting state of New Hampshire victorious.
“I don’t think there’s a person in the country more impatient than I am” to get official results, he said on MSNBC.
Buttigieg and front-runner Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator, released their campaigns’ own count of the Iowa vote which showed them having done well.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said the mobile app was recording data accurately but only partial data. The coding problem was fixed and state officials are verifying the data from the app with required paper documentation, he said.
Some local officials reported having trouble using the mobile app to report results from 1,600 schools, community centres and other locations. But when they turned to the traditional method – the telephone – they were put on hold and could not get through.
“We had people with their phones on speaker who were stuck on hold from 9 through at least 11,” said Bret Nilles, the Democratic Party chairman in Linn County. He said he had no problems recording results through the app.
Democratic candidates left Iowa for New Hampshire, which hosts the next nominating contest on Feb. 11, without knowing who leads the race to take on Trump.
The chaos was likely to stoke criticism from some Democrats who have long complained the largely white farm state has an outsized role in determining the party’s presidential nominee.
TRUMP TAKES AIM
Trump took a swipe at the Democrats, 11 of whom are
contenders in the state-by-state battle to face him in November.
“Nothing works, just like they ran the Country.” He also said the delay was not Iowa’s fault and pledged that Republicans would continue to uphold the tradition of early Iowa caucuses.
After more than a year of campaigning and more than $800 million in spending, the results in Iowa were expected to begin to provide answers for a party desperately trying to figure out how to beat the businessman-turned-president.
While Republicans were quick to pounce on the problems, their party has its own history of presidential election chaos in Iowa. On the night of the party’s 2012 caucuses, Mitt Romney was declared to have won by only eight votes. But two weeks later, the party declared that Rick Santorum had actually won by 34 votes. Romney went on to be the nominee.
There were no serious allegations of any foul play in Iowa on Monday.
U.S. intelligence agencies say Moscow meddled in the 2016 election with a campaign of email hacking and online propaganda aimed at sowing discord in the United States, hurting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and helping Trump.
Dana Remus, general counsel for Democratic candidate Joe Biden, told state party officials in a letter there were widespread failures in the system of reporting results in Iowa.
Voters had to choose whether to back someone with appeal to independents and disaffected Republicans, like moderates Biden, Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar, or someone who energises the party’s liberal base and brings out new voters, like progressives Sanders and Warren.
With no results to celebrate or mourn, the candidates spun their own upbeat view of the outcome. The Sanders campaign released what it said were its internal numbers collected at 40% of precincts, showing him in first, ahead of Buttigieg, Warren and Biden in fourth place.
“I have a strong feeling that at some point the results will be announced, and when those results are announced I have a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa,” Sanders told cheering supporters.
Buttigieg told his supporters in Iowa that “we don’t know the results” but was looking ahead to the New Hampshire contest.
“By all indications, we are going to New Hampshire victorious,” he said.
Even without the technology problems, the distinct Iowa caucuses can be difficult to understand.
At the caucus sites in Iowa, voters had gathered in groups by candidate preference in a public display of support. If a candidate did not attract 15% of voters, the total needed to be considered viable, that candidates’ supporters were released to back another contender, leading to a further round of persuasion.
Even if one candidate eventually wins by a commanding margin in Iowa, Democrats may still lack clear answers as the race moves on to three other early voting states.
Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Joseph Ax, Tim Reid, Simon Lewis, Jarrett Renshaw and Ginger Gibson in Iowa, Amanda Becker; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alistair Bell