What Would a ‘Recanvass’ in Iowa Look Like?

Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, demanded on Thursday that Iowa Democrats double-check votes from Monday’s caucuses after a meltdown in reporting results. Here’s how we got to this point, and what would most likely happen if a recanvass or recount occurs.

On Monday night, each precinct’s volunteer leaders filled out a work sheet that recorded the total attendees, the number who supported given candidates and a mathematical calculation of the state delegates that each candidate had earned. Caucus organizers also collected “presidential preference cards” on which caucusgoers wrote a first, and if necessary, a second choice.

The results that the state party has reported so far are based on the work sheets, Troy Price, the Iowa Democratic Party chairman, told members of his central committee on a conference call on Wednesday night. Packets of the preference cards, meant as a backup, have been collected from nearly every precinct and are stored “in a secure location,” he said.

On Thursday, Mr. Price issued a statement saying that the state party would comply with any candidate’s request for a recanvass that was “in compliance with the Iowa Delegate Selection Plan.” Party rules set a 48-hour deadline for the party to respond to a written request for a recanvass signed by a candidate. “Any request for recanvass must include the scope and credible explanation of the reasons of the request,” the rules state.

Under a recanvass, the precinct work sheets would undergo a “hand audit” to “ensure that they were tallied and reported correctly by a telephone intake sheets and caucus reporting application correctly,” according to the party.

Under a recount — a closer level of scrutiny — party officials would conduct a “hand count and audit of Presidential Preference Cards to ensure that caucus votes were tallied and reported correctly in the caucus work sheets and reporting forms,” the party explains.

In short: A recanvass involves checking the math on 1,756 precinct work sheets. A recount would require the hand-counting of about 180,000 preference cards from caucusgoers across the state and around the world.

“Our guidance to folks was: Everyone needs to hand in their preference cards on caucus evening,” Mr. Price said on the call, referring to the caucus chairs. “We trained folks to do just that.”

A recount based on the cards, if it comes to that, might not be definitive in a razor-close race, as now exists between Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind. This is the first caucus in which cards were used, intended to act as a paper trail after criticism that the caucuses lacked transparency.

Caucusgoers wrote their first choice on one side of the card, and if that candidate did not reach a threshold of support and was knocked out, the caucusgoer could flip the card over and write in a second choice. The cards were supposed to be turned in to the caucus administrators.

But in interviews this week, a number of caucus chairs said that there were undercounts in the cards they submitted to the state party and the number of people who voted. In other words, not everyone turned in a card.

“We collected 186 cards; four people left without turning in a card,” said Pat Loeffler, who helped run a caucus in Linn County. His precinct, Cedar Rapids 39, reported 190 votes on the work sheet submitted to the party. Mr. Loeffler’s job was to stand at the door. “I was basically asking if they turned in their card or not,” he said, adding that it had been easy for people in a hurry to dart past him.

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