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Still No Official Winner Yet In The Iowa Democratic Caucuses

NOEL KING, HOST:

Caucusing finished in Iowa on Monday. It is now Thursday. Most of the results have been released, but still no winner has been declared. We know the delay was caused by a failure of technology, but there are a whole bunch of other questions. NPR's Miles Parks has been in Des Moines trying to figure out what went wrong. Hey, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Let me ask you to just start with the results for the candidates. What do we know so far?

PARKS: Sure. So this race just continues to tighten the more data we're getting at this point, especially over the last 24 hours. We're up to about 97% of all precincts reporting across the state. And former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Bernie Sanders are now essentially tied in state delegate equivalents, with Buttigieg ahead by about a tenth of a percentage point. But Sanders actually has a more sizable lead in the raw vote total. He's up by about 2,500 votes. And that lead, like I said, has continued to grow recently.

KING: OK. And what have you learned about what exactly went wrong on Monday night?

PARKS: So we know that it all comes back to some sort of coding error within the reporting app that precinct leaders were using on Monday. And it's meant the party needed to manually go through all the paper records that caucus-goers filled out when they arrived on Monday. You can just imagine how labor intensive those efforts are.

KING: Yeah.

PARKS: I talked yesterday to Michelle Smith, who's the chair of the Jasper County Democrats, and she also led a precinct. She told me how deflating this whole thing has been, this whole week of uncertainty, because her individual site actually went really smoothly on Monday.

MICHELLE SMITH: I was excited. Like, we're not going to be here forever. And it ended. And I thought, OK, you know, I got to pick up all the chairs and do that. And then it went downhill from there.

PARKS: She actually realized there was going to be a problem on Monday when one of her friends who was leading a different precinct called her and said, you know, everything went well. We used the app to report our results. We're actually at a bar having a drink. You should come join us.

And then the state party calls Michelle, because she's the county chair, and asks for that friend's results again. Michelle has this realization of, uh-oh, what's going on? And you can kind of imagine that same moment happening for county chairs - state party county chairs, you know, across the state at different points on Monday.

KING: Miles, I am old enough to remember a time before this caucus. You and Kate Payne from Iowa Public Radio had been reporting on this app that the state was using. And you reported at the time that the Iowa Democratic Party was being very secretive about it. Did you figure out why there was so much secrecy? And what are they saying now?

PARKS: Yeah. When we reported that story - you know, it's been almost a month now - they wouldn't give us any technical details or really any details about what sort of backup plans they had in place for the app. Mostly, at this point, it's been more of the same.

State Democratic Chair Troy Price did answer a couple questions on Tuesday, but he didn't give any timetable for the final results. He has repeatedly said that top cyber experts investigated the app prior to Monday's caucuses, and he said that again on Tuesday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TROY PRICE: We have worked with cybersecurity experts, nationally renowned cybersecurity experts, to do testing and security checks on this app.

PARKS: But he has declined to say, for the last few weeks, who those experts were or at least what companies they worked for. That's been a red flag for experts who study cybersecurity. And just yesterday, a report came out from ProPublica that a cybersecurity firm that they contracted with took a look at the app and found major security vulnerabilities, basically saying there were hackable issues potentially there.

KING: Why is election transparency so important?

PARKS: So something that information experts talk about a lot is this thing called the knowledge gap. When there's a hunger for information about a subject but no good information out there, it creates this pocket for wrong or bad information to go viral. And we've seen that happen a lot the past few days across social media.

I was just in a college class at Drake University yesterday asking all these students who - it was their first time caucusing - if they'd seen conspiracy theories floating around about this delay in results. And immediately, one of the kids raises his hand and says, yeah, a bunch of my friends from home immediately were saying Russian collusion or Chinese collusion. He was kind of half-joking a little bit, but you can see how all of this just weakens people's confidence that elections in this country are reflecting the will of the people.

KING: Sure. Not a good sign. NPR's Miles Parks in Des Moines. Miles, thanks so much.

PARKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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