Des Moines Register, others find inconsistencies, errors in Iowa Democratic Party caucus data

Robin Opsahl Katie Akin
Des Moines Register
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As the Iowa Democratic Party struggles to report full results of the 2020 Iowa caucuses, caucusgoers, campaigns and journalists have found inconsistencies and errors in the data released.

The Des Moines Register found discrepancies between official precinct-level worksheets and what the Democratic Party posted in results.

The Register analysis also found potential errors in how delegates were awarded, given the numbers the party reported. The potential errors in delegate awards show some Democratic presidential candidates receiving more delegates from a given precinct than other candidates who actually had more supporters counted.

The Iowa Democratic Party on Wednesday acknowledged some of the errors in its data and corrected them. Others errors appeared to still linger on Thursday, according to the Register analysis. 

James Payne, a 33-year-old journalist, flew from New York City to volunteer for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign in Iowa ahead of the caucuses. After a week of canvassing and training, Payne helped a local precinct captain persuade caucusgoers to join the Sanders camp in Des Moines' 14th Precinct on Monday night.

Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg were each awarded two delegates at the end of the night, Payne recalled. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren received one. Former Vice President Joe Biden also received one.

"It was my first caucus. It was such a rush, and we did extremely well in the white, working-class neighborhood," Payne said in a Thursday interview. "I'm very happy with the results that we had."

But in the Iowa Democratic Party's data, Sanders had 50 supporters counted in the final alignment; Buttigieg had 52; Warren had 31; and Biden had 25. Both Sanders and Biden were awarded  0.2798, and Buttigieg and Warren had 0.5596, meaning Warren received more delegate strength from a precinct in which Sanders actually had more supporters. 

"I just got back to New York, the first thing that happened when I touched down... is I saw this," Payne said. "Then, I tweeted about it."

After Payne tweeted about what he saw, a fellow Twitter user messaged him with a coding script to check for more potential errors. The script highlighted nine other precincts in which a candidate with more support did not earn as many state delegate equivalents as other candidates who received less support. The Register confirmed those issues in its own analysis.

Isaiah Zirkelbach, a 25-year-old from Clinton, saw similar errors in the Clinton 2-1 Precinct. 

In the Iowa Democrats' official results, Sanders had 26 supporters in the first round of preference support, more than any other candidate. In the second round, the Vermont senator had only 20 supporters counted.

The Democrats' rules, however, say that candidates who are viable, as Sanders was after the first count, should not lose support in the second round. The rules say that viable candidates' support is locked in after first-round counting. 

That means Sanders should have had, at minimum, 26 people in the final count.

"I don't know if these people were removed, or if this was just straight incompetence," Zirkelbach said in an interview. The precinct-level data from that precinct appears to show other inconsistencies in counting. 

"There's obviously been widespread issues with reporting, but I hadn't seen this specific scenario yet," Zirkelbach said. "What I'm thinking is that, in this specific case, they maybe didn't know about the rule change or didn't follow it."

The Register also sent an email to the Iowa Democratic Party's media address asking about numbers it reported for Clinton County's Liberty Toronto Precinct. In that precinct, Buttigieg and Sanders appeared to have more supporters than U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, but only Klobuchar received any delegates. 

Mandy McClure, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Democratic Party, acknowledged the error but did not provide an explanation.

Sanders called out mathematical errors in the caucus reporting during a speech in New Hampshire on Thursday. 

"I think what has happened with the Iowa Democratic Party is an outrage," Sanders said. "That they were that unprepared, that they put forth such a complicated process, relied on untested technology, and also, to be honest with you, they have relied on thousands of volunteers — good people, who then have to get up and go to work the next day — to do what is enormously complicated."

In data from Des Moines' 55th Precinct, the Iowa Democratic Party corrected errors on Wednesday that showed former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick receiving 191 supporters in the first alignment and 218 in the final.

Those supporter figures were reallocated to Sanders, where they belonged, according to a Register photograph of the precinct worksheet. Similarly, Warren's supporter strength had been mistakenly allocated to billionaire activist Tom Steyer.

While the party's Wednesday afternoon update corrected those errors, on Thursday entrepreneur Andrew Yang and "uncommitted" were both shown as having no support in either round of counting. According to the caucus night worksheet, Yang had 65 supporters in the first round of counting and "uncommitted" had support in both alignments. 

A New York Times report Thursday highlighted other potential problems in the party's reporting. That analysis found "more than 100 precincts reported results that were internally inconsistent, that were missing data or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses."

“The caucus math work sheet is the official report on caucus night to the I.D.P., and the I.D.P. reports the results as delivered by the precinct chair,” McClure told the New York Times. “This form must be signed by the caucus chair, the caucus secretary and representatives from each campaign in the room who attest to its accuracy. Under the rules of the delegate selection process, delegates are awarded based off the record of results as provided by each precinct caucus chair.”

Robin Opsahl and Katie Akin are political reporters for the Register. Reach Robin at or 515-284-8051. Support reporters who follow your government by becoming a subscriber. Sign up at

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