Early Tuesday morning, hours after the doors closed on caucuses all over Iowa, not a single precinct had reported any official vote tallies.
After a flurry of voters scuttled around high school gyms and coalitions built and broke and reformed, the long wait began. Trouble was forecasted earlier on Monday when reports started to surface about problems with an app used to transit voting data to the state Democratic Party.
It was a humiliating night for the caucus as an exercise, which had already come under intense scrutiny for its lack of representativeness and convoluted rules. Issues during vote tabulating seemed to revolve around inconsistent reporting and an increased volume of data to process.
“We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” Iowa Democratic Party communications director Mandy McClure said in a statement late Monday. “In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report.”
Cable news pundits were forced to fill the airwaves, grasping for content in lieu of data.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) cashed in on that hunger first, giving an early speech that was treated to wall-to-wall coverage. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg used his time to declare himself the night’s victor, notwithstanding the lack of any evidence. The rest of the leading candidates also gave upbeat remarks as primetime slipped away and Americans on the east coast called it lights out.
Biden’s campaign shot off a letter to the state party, demanding answers:
Here’s Biden’s letter to the Iowa Democratic Party pic.twitter.com/MbHs5G6wK6
— Brittany L. Shepherd (@blrshepherd) February 4, 2020
The Biden campaign’s ire widely reverberated in responses from the other campaigns during a conference call around 10:30 p.m. ET. Per BuzzFeed News, the party spokesperson told campaign officials that “user error” on the app resulted in inconsistencies, and that only about 35 percent of precincts were reported at all.
“This is an unbelievable explanation,” one participant on the call shouted, according to BuzzFeed. “I think he speaks for all of us,” another added.
Top surrogates for President Donald Trump, including Donald Trump Jr. and campaign manager Brad Parscale, wasted no time sowing doubt about the legitimacy of the process on Twitter. Iowa Democrats definitively ruled out hacking as the cause of the confusion.
At least for the duration of Monday night, the delays obscured the political import of the first contest. In weeks leading up to the caucus, the polls stayed incredibly tight with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg bunched together at the front of the pack. Sanders seemed to hold a slight lead heading into caucus day.
But now, as party officials feverishly tabulate the results, the candidates are setting their sights on New Hampshire, the next (and hopefully less glitchy) early state primary.