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  • Writer's pictureLuke Gialanella

What just happened in iowa?

Over the past week, there has been a lot of controversy over what occurred during the 2020 Iowa Democratic Party caucuses, but before I get into what happened, first I will detail how the caucus system works, especially in Iowa.

A caucus is not a typical presidential primary, where someone votes at a ballot box and whoever wins the most votes is declared the winner of the primary. In a caucus system, the winner is determined by the number of State Delegate Equivalents (SDEs). The number of SDEs is not determined by net votes, but instead by the physical spread of a candidate's support. But how is that determined?

Instead of going to a polling place to vote, party members attend caucus sites, which tend to be located at school gymnasiums, libraries, and other large open spaces. Let's say we have 5 candidates: Candidate 1, Candidate 2, Candidate 3, Candidate 4, and Candidate 5. Let's say 30% of caucusgoers support Candidate 1, 25% of caucusgoers support Candidate 2, 15% of caucusgoers support Candidate 3, 18% of caucusgoers support Candidate 4, and 12% of caucusgoers support Candidate 5. Each candidate's supporters physically move to one section of the caucus site where they can support that candidate. These percentages are from the first vote, where all candidates have supporters and vote totals.

Now, viability is tested. In order to become "viable" to move on to the second and final vote tally, a candidate needs to win 15% of the vote in the first vote. As we can see only 12% of caucusgoers supported Candidate 5, so Candidate 5 is not viable to move on to the next vote. Even though Candidate 4 now has the least amount of support out of the viable candidates, if all of Candidate 5's voters agree to support Candidate 4, Candidate 4 now has 30% of the vote and is tied with Candidate 1 in the final vote tally, and both win the precinct or caucus site.

Now, we move on to State Delegate Equivalents. Take the number of people in a certain candidate’s corner at the end of the final round of voting, multiply that by the number of delegates assigned to the precinct and then divide that by the total number of caucusgoers at the site. (Iowa Public Radio)

In our precinct, let's say there were 100 voters. Candidate 1 and Candidate 2 both had 30 votes, multiply that by the number of delegates in the precinct (let's say 10), and now divide that number by 100. Candidates 1 and 4 both now have 3 SDEs. This occurs throughout the state, and since SDEs are determined by the number of the precinct, whoever has the broadest support wins the SDE count, which is then translated to an actual national delegate count which is represented at the party convention.

Let's talk about 2020. For the Republicans, incumbent President Donald Trump won with 97% of the vote and delegates. For the Democrats, it wasn't as simple. Candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, a Senator from Vermont, won both first and final rounds of voting, but Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, won the SDE count by 2 SDEs and won the national delegate count by 1. Buttigieg had the broadest support throughout Iowa, but Sanders had the most support among voters. The Associated Press, the official organization who declares the winner of Iowa, said that they couldn't call the race due to the closeness of all counts, and some inconsistencies with data. These inconsistencies were caused by an app, which was supposed to allow precinct "captains" to tell the state party their results, crashing. National Democratic Party Chair Tom Perez has called for a recanvass, surveying some results to verify they are correct.

There is no clear end in sight for the Iowa caucuses yet, but the next race in the 2020 cycle is the New Hampshire primaries on Tuesday, February 11. This election isn't as complicated, as voters go to the polling place and whoever gets the most votes wins, plain and simple. Then, on Sunday, February 22, Nevada holds their caucuses, similar to Iowa's system, but they will not be using an app to send results to the state party. Tune in to any news station on Tuesday to follow the results in New Hampshire, and stay tuned for potential final results in Iowa sometime soon.

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