Dingell vows change so Iowa caucuses, N.H. primary aren't first in nation

The Detroit News

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell said Monday's debacle surrounding the Democratic caucus results in Iowa was "just one more nail in the coffin" that would lead her to resurrect efforts to change the schedule of Democratic primaries.

Dingell said Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn't monopolize presidential "retail" politics, and that she planned to build a coalition to ensure the two states do not hold the nation's first presidential caucuses and primaries in the future. The move would mark the first time Dingell and other Michigan politicians pushed to change the Democratic primary system since an attempt before the 2008 election.

"Michigan was ready to break it," Dingell told The Detroit News. "We need to set up a process that is regional or some other way. (Iowa) is a great state, but it doesn't represent the population of the country. I'm not the only one saying this. People are saying this around the country." 

In an interview with Frank Beckmann on WJR radio (760 AM) on Tuesday morning, the Dearborn Democrat said that she had given up previous efforts to find an alternative calendar but won't be deterred this time.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell

Her comments came as results from Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus were delayed due to technical issues. She vows to pursue the change in schedule despite being deterred by the party in her earlier attempts.

"Iowa and New Hampshire should stop dictating to us and stop dominating a process that is not reflective of the population of the country," Dingell said. "This is just not the way you run a fair election."

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, seemed receptive to the idea of having another state — such as her own — go first.

“Michigan would be the perfect state to kick off the Democratic primaries," she said. Given our diversity and critical role in the general election, it just makes sense.” 

Dingell explained her view on the current system in a Facebook post.

"I am back on this subject. The current nominating system is broken, does not reflect the diversity of this country, doesn’t give many states the opportunity for candidates to understand their issues and I am beginning the campaign, today, February 4, 2020 to change the Presidential nominating system," she wrote, after discussing her late husband, John Dingell.

An attempt to modernize the arcane Iowa caucus system and make it more transparent melted down with the introduction of new technology and more complex rules. The Iowa Democratic Party was unable to release results from Monday’s caucuses after discovering “inconsistencies” in reporting from some precincts.

By morning, the state Democratic Party said in a statement that it had identified a flaw in the phone application used to report results that failed Monday night.

“We determined with certainty that the underlying data collected via the app was sound,” party chairman Troy Price said in the statement. “While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data. We have determined that this was due to a coding issue in the reporting system. This issue was identified and fixed.”

That statement came as Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, said in a Fox News interview Tuesday that the federal department had offered to review the Iowa Caucus app, but the agency’s offer was rebuffed.

The Iowa Democratic party indicated results may be released sometime Tuesday but gave no firm timeline.

The disruption in the reporting is likely to push others to join Dingell and accelerate calls for an end to caucuses. Only three other states – Nevada, Wyoming and Kansas – still use the caucus system in the nomination race as the national party has tried to shift states toward using primaries.

In the void, several campaigns leaked unverified internal campaign data – submitted by their own precinct captains – to claim a strong showing.

Pete Buttigieg effectively delivered his victory speech to supporters, saying, “By all indications we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.” Bernie Sanders’s campaign also released a ranking that showed Sanders at No. 1. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign said she outperformed Joe Biden for fourth place.

None of those results could be confirmed.

The foul-up occurred just days after the closely watched Iowa Poll canceled a Saturday release, saying, in effect, it couldn’t stand behind the results. And the controversy occurred against a backdrop of increasing worry about the credibility of electoral results, following Russian interference in Donald Trump’s election in 2016. It threatened to put a shadow over the final results, whenever they are announced.

Trump on Tuesday morning claimed on Twitter that he was “the only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night.” He called the Democratic results “an unmitigated disaster.”

The Iowa contest is the first in a long cycle of caucuses and primaries that stretches until June – awarding just 1% of the delegates needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. But Iowa offers outsized momentum to its strong finishers as they head to New Hampshire a week away. Sanders leads the polls there comfortably, followed by Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Buttigieg.

The Iowa Democratic Party said there was no evidence of hacking in the results, merely human error and other inconsistencies that forced the party to resort to hand-counting the votes.

What happened was that the state party deployed a new phone app for precinct chairmen to report results at the same time it deployed a new system for tabulating winners. Both appear to have failed.

Precinct chairmen found it difficult to use the app and instead resorted to calling a hotline. The hotline got so jammed up that they were waiting for 30 minutes or more for someone to answer. Then the party reported there were “inconsistencies” in the count and decided to withhold announcing results until at least Tuesday.

Warren’s campaign manager, Roger Lau, said the delay was concerning and disappointing. “Every second that passes undermines the process a little bit,” he said.

Biden’s campaign was the most muted about its Iowa showing, preferring instead to issue a sharply worded letter from the campaign’s general counsel, demanding “full explanations and relevant information” about its quality control efforts and a chance to respond “before any official results are released.”

Biden, who had been leading in national polls but was struggling in Iowa, said he was moving on to the New Hampshire primary and beyond. “We’re in this for the long haul,” Biden told a crowd in Des Moines.

State party officials held a conference call with representatives of the campaigns and read a statement about the failures that had already been released, according to another person, who was familiar with the call. When campaign representatives began asking questions and expressed frustration, the Iowa Democrats abruptly ended the call, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In the earlier statement, Iowa Democratic Party Communications Director Mandy McClure said officials “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results.” She said that in addition to their technology systems, party officials also were using photos of results and paper records to verify the tallies.

“This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion,” McClure said. “The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.”

Bloomberg contributed to this report.