Iowa Democratic Party accepts recanvass requests of all precincts highlighted by Sanders, Buttigieg campaigns

Nick Coltrain
The Des Moines Register
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As the surviving presidential campaigns turn their eyes to the third and fourth nominating contests in the national primary, the Iowa caucuses continue to make news.

The Iowa Democratic Party agreed Wednesday to accept recanvass requests from the presidential campaigns for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The requests cover 82 caucus-night precincts and all 61 in-state satellite sites. The party expects to start the process on Sunday and says the recanvass should take two days.

The Sanders campaign has indicated it may also ask for a recount, but IDP first requires a recanvass. The Buttigieg campaign framed its request as a reaction to "at least one other campaign" planning to make a recanvass request and wrote that it would rescind the request if no other campaign asked for a recanvass.

In total, the campaigns requested a recanvassing of 143 precincts. The party also reviewed results from 95 precincts independent of the campaigns' requests.

The Sanders campaign believes underlying errors in the reported precinct caucus math worksheets cost the senator at least one national delegate. The national delegates will ultimately determine the party's nominee at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this summer. Buttigieg currently leads Sanders 14-12 in projected national delegates from Iowa.

The Des Moines Register and other media also found errors and inconsistencies in the caucus data released by the Iowa Democratic Party.

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said the results reported by the precinct captains in their caucus math worksheets are legally binding, and that the party can't unilaterally change those reports, even with obvious errors.

A recanvass would double-check reported results from the caucus precinct chairs against what the Iowa Democratic Party has reported publicly. A recount would involve adding up the "presidential preference cards" submitted by caucusgoers and then tallying the delegates.

Party rules state that a recanvass must be requested before a recount can be undertaken, and a recount can only be taken of the same precincts that have already been recanvassed and can only happen at the request of the same campaign that requested the recanvass.

"While a recanvass is just the first step in the process and we don’t expect it to change the current calculations, it is a necessary part of making sure Iowans can trust the final results of the caucus,” Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser for the Sanders campaign, said Monday in a statement about the recanvass request. “... Once the recanvass and a subsequent recount are completed in these precincts, we feel confident we will be awarded the extra national delegate our volunteers and grassroots donors earned.”

Both presidential campaigns have claimed a measure of victory in the race. Buttigieg holds a slim lead over Sanders in state delegate equivalents, the traditional measure of success in Iowa. Sanders had more individual support at the caucus sites, a metric he aligned with a traditional primary election. Buttigieg hopes the recanvass will bolster his lead, while Sanders' camp believes a recanvass and recount could give him a clean sweep of victory in Iowa.

The recanvass requests follow a disastrous caucus night where several campaigns decamped from Iowa without knowing even preliminary results. A software app that precinct captains could use to report results malfunctioned, and the backup phone hotline turned into a bottleneck plagued with pranksters, reporters and precinct chairs alike.

It has led to a resurgent discussion about whether Iowa should kick off the presidential nominating contests. On Wednesday, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez told CNN, "The time is ripe for that conversation," and specifically cited the party's diversity as a reason to reconsider the order.

He has been critical of what happened in Iowa and said it made him question if party-run contests such as caucuses should exist. Traditional primary elections are handled by state governments.

Perez also called for a recanvass of Iowa results before an initial count was completed, saying in a tweet, “enough is enough,” and that it was necessary to “assure public confidence in the results.”

Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at or at 515-284-8361.

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