Tuesday, February 4, 2020

After Iowa

Most states - more and more of them now - have some form of presidential primary to choose national party convention delegates. Primaries differ from general elections but resemble them in the way they revolve around the experience of voting - voting by secret ballot. The Iowa Caucuses are excitingly different. Anyone who watched any of the coverage on TV last night could not fail to be impressed by the turnout, the sheer number and age diversity of caucus participants, and especially by the serious commitment of caucus participants not only to stand in their candidate's corner but also to persuade one another as they section off. Surely this was democracy on display!

And then, chaos! After all the effort and energy everyone put into this process, not to mention the months of campaigning by candidates criss-crossing the state, something went wrong. No results.

At this early hour it remains unclear what exactly went wrong, but suspicion falls on the technology employed. Once upon a time, everything was counted manually and reported accordingly. Now we feel the need to use technology and mobile phone apps, with increasingly unfortunate consequences. (Hopefully, there are human records of what happened that can give us something like a trustworthy result, however belatedly.)

Meanwhile, the candidates are moving on to New Hampshire. Whatever boost the winning candidate might have gotten going into New Hampshire has been - if not lost - at least diminished. On the other hand, no one is being pressed to drop out this early because of an ostensibly poor performance in Iowa. Our process - or at least the obsessive way we cover the process - is preoccupied with "momentum." So far at least, Iowa has neither given nor taken away "momentum" to or from anyone.

Ultimately the big loser may be the Iowa Caucus process itself and its "first in the nation' status. Even without this mess, there have been calls to make the opening act of the election more representative. Those arguments will now be strengthened by this self-inflicted disappointment.

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