Lessons we likely will NOT learn from Iowa

There is a lot of lessons that could be learned from Iowa. Yet we may not learn them. On the other hand we may learn other lessons. As Mark Twain said “‘It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

In no particular order:

  • Bernie and Pete both won. We go crazy over exactly who won by a few votes or delegates. Sometimes it is critical and important, like in a close election where we need to declare a winner. Not in a single primary where one or a couple delegates are hardly likely to make a difference in the end. Pursue every vote, count everything as accurately as possible. Pursue every irregularity and act on that (unfortunately, that often does not happen.) No matter if Bernie won by 0.2% or Mayor Pete did, they both won. It is amazing the Pete came from nowhere and did so well. It is amazing that Bernie, with obstacle after obstacle placed in his way by the DNC and the media, rose to the top.
  • Change anything in the rules, and the result is likely to have been different.
  • Did Bernie win the popular vote? No more than Hillary did in 2016. That will likely outrage my democrat and Bernie friends, yet it is true for several reasons that we do not know. First, this is a town by town delegate contest. That is the rules. The turnout at the caucuses varies from district to district far from the population, and far from November. Those that propose the National Popular Vote claim that would cause more people to vote – more Democrats in blue states, more Republicans in red states, yet also more Democrats in red states, more Republicans in blue states – they are correct. Yet,nobody knows what the results of a true popular vote would have been in either case. Second, more in the case of Hillary or Al Gore, than in Iowa – there is very little scrutiny of the exact vote, no audit across the country. Who cares if Hillary won by 3,000,000 votes in CA or 2,500,000 or 200,000 in CT or 250,000.  We do not have an accurate popular vote number for 2016 or 2000 or for any other year for that matter. Change the rules and it would matter.
  • People tend to tout their favorite reform as a cure for any crisis. This week, one reputedly smart state representative claimed that Iowa was a case for paper ballots. I agree we need paper ballots everywhere, yet Iowa had paper ballots. Even better the caucus votes were held in public so there was no question that the ballots were correct and not compromised in the reported vote count.  That same representative votes in the General Assembly all the time without paper ballots. They push a button and it lights up a screen. That is a very transparent, publicly verifiable vote, closer to the Iowa caucus than elections in Connecticut, much safer than any secret voting system. Regularly in Connecticut insiders and political operative steal votes via absentee, almost as regularly that is used as a reason to call for more main-in voting.
  • Many say Iowa is a reason to get rid of caucuses. I agree.
  • Many say Iowa is a reason for Ranked Choice Voting. Actually the Iowa system is more like Ranked Choice Voting than winner take all. Like Ranked Choice Voting it takes more math and accuracy to determine the results, it makes close votes more likely, not just in the end, but at every round where a close vote can determine the ultimate result in a caucus or a RCV. RCV can take much longer for results to be determined. Errors in single RCV precincts are much more likely to effect the final result than in the Iowa Caucus.
  • Elections are complex, people don’t know that.  It is hard to account for over 1700 precincts. It is hard to manage dozens or hundreds of people and count their votes correctly in a caucus. Its hard to apply the difficult equations to determine deligates accurately, in the environment of a caucus.  It is hard to double check all that. Especially hard since there apparently is no training for caucus leaders, many recruited the day before. Hard to get 1700+ of those counts all correct, add them up and double check them. Hard for a candidate to have individuals in every precinct to collect the data, verify the vote counts, verify the formulas and get all that information to the campaign and then for the campaign to redo and double check that information.
  • May say Connecticut is better off because we have trained election officials. They are mostly correct. Yet, how do you know there are no errors in the results from Connecticut?  How many inaccurate results are reported?  In how many cases are results reported with more votes than voters signed in? In how many cases are more voters signed in than ballots counted?  I do not know the answers exactly, yet there are many in every November election. Many times they do not matter when contests are decided by many votes. Yet in many cases they do matter.  A rare example from 2018 where such a situation was uncovered, investigated and ultimately not remedied.
  • The Iowa app was a badly botched system implementation, with no real backup.  Yet a few years ago Connecticut’s Secretary of the State tried to mandate a system where polling place moderators would put in all our results on election night with smart phones – with greatly tired officials who had worked a 17 hour day, with many times the small number of results posted from each caucus. That system was stopped by an uprising from election officials, who should have been part of designing the system. That took a couple of years for them to be heard by the Secretary’s Office who blamed the officials as being against technology. We now have a pretty good system that uses fresh staff with laptops in town hall to enter data using laptops, not smart phones. Yet that system took a couple of years of Novembers to work out all the bugs to work well enough to be mandated to every town.
  • Connecticut is fine. Until the next thing happens. Then the Secretary of the State will again say it was outside her responsibility as Chief Election Official, ask for more power and laws to prevent that specific problem. All will be well until the next thing happens…
  • Having paper ballots and checkin lists means we can resolve most issues, yet it will take time. Maybe weeks. Yet we cannot resolve all problems, missing ballots, voter suppression, screw-ups like the one in Stratford above, illegal absentee ballots etc. We need better plans and processes to resolve those issues, including more re-voting.

The bottom line: Be careful what you ask for, the cure may be worse than the disease. Its complicated. Don’t let a crisis go to waste, but avoid knee-jerk solutions.

“‘It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain


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