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Results Fiasco Renews Calls For Iowa To Lose Its First-To-Vote Status

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Iowa, the first state to vote, is looking last in vote counting. We're still waiting for a final tally in the 2020 Iowa caucuses. The state Democratic Party chairman has promised a full investigation, and already, there are calls for Iowa to lose its status. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: New technology was supposed to make the 2020 Iowa caucuses a smoother-running operation. It didn't work out that way. Monday night passed and then Tuesday morning with no results reported. Then, just after 4 p.m. yesterday, partial but not complete vote totals were posted online, showing Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg battling for first place. By now, all of the Iowa candidates were off in New Hampshire, leaving the spotlight to Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TROY PRICE: Good afternoon, and thank you all so much for taking a little time today to chat a little bit about what happened last night.

GONYEA: Price held a short news conference, starting with a mea culpa. He said the problems tabulating results are unacceptable.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRICE: As chair of the party, I apologize deeply for this.

GONYEA: He said an investigation would be thorough and transparent, but he also stressed that the use of voting cards this year - that's a new thing for the caucuses - means there's a paper trail and that there will be an accurate final count eventually. During Q&A, Price said there were no indications of problems during testing of the new app used to transmit results from caucus sites. He didn't say when a complete vote count would be released. And he was asked if having such a major problem could lead to Iowa losing its spot as the first to vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRICE: The fact is, is that this is a conversation that happens every four years. There's no doubt that that conversation will take place again.

GONYEA: In fact, it's already been a hot topic on local television news in Iowa. Here's KCCI Channel 8 in Des Moines.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Snafu is, of course, increasing calls nationwide, and Iowa's first-in-the-nation status in the presidential election process...

GONYEA: In the past, the debate has focused on whether Iowa is too rural, too white and too unlike the nation as a whole to occupy the privileged first spot on the election calendar. It has so far always weathered such arguments, but the very public, very embarrassing problems of this week give Iowa's critics a boost, according to Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford.

DENNIS GOLDFORD: The 2020 caucus was a - pretty much of a nightmare scenario.

GONYEA: He says the push to give another state a turn or to even make it a rotating position with a new first state each election cycle will now get a more serious look.

GOLDFORD: Those wanting to change the nomination procedure to move or displace the Iowa caucuses have gained a lot of ammunition.

GONYEA: In the meantime, Iowa Democrats will need to show that they fixed the problems of this week. More difficult might be proving to voters, especially those disappointed with the results, that fairness has carried the day. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Des Moines.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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