Iowa Caucus: Do Voters Feel Trapped In Broken System?

Iowa caucus results have now been questioned by both the Democrats and the Republicans. Representatives from Bernie Sanders’ campaign were the first to question the outcome of Iowa’s Democratic caucus on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Republican Donald Trump followed suit by pointing fingers at Ted Cruz’s supporters. Only days after Iowa voters cast the nation’s first votes in the 2016 presidential race, news of the Iowa caucus results has been eclipsed by claims that the results are skewed. Could these disputes, and the others that seem likely to follow, make voters feel trapped in a broken system, resulting in presidential election changes?

Sanders resigns himself to Iowa caucus loss
According to a recent report in The Des Moines Register, the Sanders campaign blames human error and technology for skewing Monday night’s Iowa caucus results. In Iowa, each precinct is responsible for tallying its votes and sending the results to the Iowa Democratic Party. Rumors about the lack of organization and unprepared precinct chairs abound. Blame has also been placed on the app many precincts used to report tallies to the state party. Regardless of the source of the discrepancies, representatives from the Sanders campaign have resigned themselves to the belief that the actual results from the caucus will never surface.

Trump points fingers at Cruz after Iowa caucus
Conversely, it appears that the Trump campaign, in typical Trump style, is refusing to resign itself to a loss. Instead of letting a campaign representative issue a statement concerning the Iowa caucus results, Trump tweeted his feelings, accusing Ted Cruz of stealing the win.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Trump believes the Cruz campaign intentionally tricked Iowa voters into believing Ben Carson was prepared to throw in the towel, resulting in more votes for Cruz. He bases this belief on reports of Cruz representatives feeding Iowa caucus voters misinformation about the Carson campaign, reports backed by a tweet posted by one of the state’s representatives.

The validity of Sanders’ claim of discrepancies and Trump’s claim of fraud may never be proved, leaving the true outcome of the Iowa caucus disputed. The first question here concerns the effect a series of disputed results could have on American voters’ faith in the system. The second question is whether the claims arising after Iowa are a signal to the nation that changes to the presidential election process need to be implemented. To answer the first question, one has to have a basic understanding of how the Iowa caucus works.

The process that determines who wins the Iowa Republican caucus is fairly straightforward. Either the candidates themselves or their supporters campaign for them prior to the voting, and the registered Republicans in attendance write their choices on pieces of paper and hand them to the precinct chair. The written votes are then counted and reported to the state party.

The process is much more complex for the Democrats, which is made obvious by the fact that the Democratic process still involves a head count. After the initial count, those who voted for candidates who received less than 15 percent of the vote are urged by the representatives of the other candidates to switch their votes. After those willing to switch have changed their votes, precinct officials take final tallies and assign delegates. To further complicate matters, the method used by the Democratic party for the Iowa caucus eliminates the possibility of a second count to confirm the results.

When complex processes like the one used by the Democrats in the Iowa caucus result in disputes, disillusioned voters who doubt the validity of the reported results may begin to question all complex election-related processes, including the electoral college, which is an institution many voters have seen as outdated and unnecessary for years. If disputes continue throughout the year, it seems likely Americans will tire of the endless banter from political circles and demand changes to fix a political system that, to most, feels broken.

[Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP]