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Trump fans flooded Iowa Caucus hotline, Democrats say

Tyler Pager and Jennifer Epstein
Bloomberg

Supporters of President Donald Trump flooded a hotline used by Iowa precinct chairs to report Democratic caucus results after the telephone number was posted online, worsening delays in the statewide tally, a top state Democrat told party leaders on a conference call Wednesday night.

According to two participants on the call, Ken Sagar, a state Democratic central committee member, was among those answering the hotline on caucus night and said people called in and expressed support for Trump. The phone number became public after people posted photos of caucus paperwork that included the hotline number, one of the people on the call said.

The phone call Wednesday night between the Iowa Democratic Party staff and state central committee, the party’s elected governing body, came as the party was still counting results.

Precinct captain Carl Voss, of Des Moines, Iowa, holds his iPhone that shows the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus reporting app Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Several glitches, including problems with a new phone application that was supposed to quickly send individual caucus results to the state party, plagued Iowa’s troubled caucuses, causing the outcome to be delayed for days. More than 48 hours after caucusing began, the party had reported results from 96% of precincts and the race was too close to call.

Sagar, who is also president of the Iowa AFL-CIO, declined to comment when reached by Bloomberg News. Troy Price, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, alluded to interference on the conference call.

On Thursday morning, the Iowa Democratic Party confirmed it “experienced an unusually high volume of inbound phone calls to its caucus hotline,” which included “supporters of President Trump who called to express their displeasure with the Democratic Party.”

“The unexplained, and at times hostile, calls contributed to the delay in the Iowa Democratic Party’s collection of results, but in no way affected the integrity of information gathered or the accuracy of data sets reported,“ the party statement said.

The Trump campaign said Wednesday night it had no knowledge of its supporters calling the hotline.

“Don’t know anything about that but maybe Democrats should consider using an app of some kind next time,” Tim Murtaugh, a campaign spokesman wrote in a text message.

“Democrats are engulfed in the worst election embarrassment in modern history and they’re looking for someone to blame. It’s pathetic,” Murtaugh added Thursday.

When the phone application malfunctioned, precinct chairs turned to the telephone hotline to get the results to the Iowa Democratic Party. Many were placed on long holds and some gave up.

Shawn Sebastian, the caucus secretary for a precinct in Story County, was on hold with the state party for an hour trying to report results through the hotline because of app problems. Party officials came on the phone while he was being interviewed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who asked Sebastian to report his precinct’s results while he was on air. He agreed but by the time he turned back to the state party, officials had hung up on him.

Price has been working to assure Democratic leaders that the party is taking every step to confirm the accuracy of the results. On Tuesday, he sent an email to the state central committee, outlining the steps the party has taken.

“As you know, this has been a challenging few days for our team and our state party,” Price wrote. “Media accounts tell part of the story – technical issues and new reporting requirements caused delays and confusion. What received less attention by the media, was the deliberative and cross-functional approach we brought to preparing for and solving these challenges.”

The app’s troubles started before caucusing began. On Monday morning, multiple precinct chairs reported difficulties downloading and logging into the app. Then, once the results came in, the Iowa Democratic Party said there was a “coding error.”

Since Monday night, the state party has been trying to verify the results by examining paperwork sent from the precincts and cross-referencing it with the results reported by the chairs via the phone app or the hotline.

The party and its leaders have come under withering criticism for the botched reporting results, but when Price was asked at a news conference on Tuesday whether he would resign, he deflected, saying he was focused on finishing the count.

The chaos could not have come at a worse time for Iowa as many party leaders and lawmakers are questioning why a small, overwhelmingly white state has such an outsized role in determining the nominee.

Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.