With the final result still in doubt amid technical difficulties and inconsistencies, the Iowa Democratic caucuses held earlier this month has been described as an epic fiasco. But the confusion and mishandling were not limited to Iowa. New Yorkers registered to vote as Iowans, who were able to participate in satellite caucusing for the first time, have also complained about the process that they say was riddled with technical snafus and alleged rule-breaking.
“I still don’t understand how much our caucus counted for,” said Andrew Ridker, a writer and Bernie Sanders supporter who organized one of New York City’s two satellite caucuses at the Brower Park branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.
“I’m extremely disappointed and frustrated,” he added.
On Sunday, the Iowa Democratic Party released updated caucus results that put the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg in the lead over Sanders of two state delegate equivalents out of 2,152 counted, or 0.09 percentage points. In response, both the Sanders and Buttigieg campaigns have asked for a partial recanvass, or checking the math on precinct tallies. Sanders's campaign made a targeted effort to turn out supporters at satellite caucuses and has reportedly fared well in the results.
Ridker described issues with a now-infamous app that the IDP asked caucus chairs to use for the first time this year. The app has been widely blamed for the delays in reporting results.
“As a caucus chair, I wasn’t aware of the existence of an app until a week or two before the caucus,” he said. “I was thinking, I’m 28 and I’m struggling to install this app. I can’t imagine what the retirees who tend to run the normal caucuses are going to make of this.”
Ridker, who is not from Iowa but who registered there while attending graduate school in Iowa City, continued, “Every time I tried to take a photo of the results, the app would shut down and my phone would send me back to the home screen.”
He said he had to re-enter a PIN number around 15 times over the course of an hour while trying to use the app.
Ridker eventually called the IDP to manually report his caucus’s results, which showed Sanders as the winner. The rules for satellite caucusing are the same. Candidates must have 15 percent support at a caucus, otherwise, their supporters must choose another candidate. According to Ridker, at his location, seven Sanders supporters participated, followed by three for Elizabeth Warren and one for Amy Klobuchar. In the “final alignment,” part of the caucus’s multi-step voting process, the Klobuchar supporter switched to Warren, he said.
Nancy Tang, a Bed-Stuy resident originally from Ames, Iowa, caucused at a satellite location at Jefferson Market Library in the West Village. She estimated that the final count was 33 people for Sanders and 23 for Warren. Two Buttigieg supporters switched to Warren after the first alignment.
According to Tang, the process at her site was riddled with confusion. "No one really seemed to be sure of what they were supposed to be doing the whole time," she said, in reference to both participants and organizers.
Tang also said that the caucusing rules were broken at her satellite location, where representatives from some candidate campaigns entered a section of the room that was marked as only for Iowans.
“The Iowa Democratic Party was not on top of it,” she said.
The IDP did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
Sanders supporters who caucused in other states were also critical of the Democratic Party.
“I definitely think it was kind of shady that as soon as it seemed like Sanders was pulling ahead they demanded a recount,” said David Rico Gomez, referring to DNC Chair Tom Perez’s public call for a recanvass in Iowa.
Gomez traveled from San Francisco to caucus for Sanders at Stanford University. But unlike those who satellite caucused in New York, he did not encounter any problems. “The experience at Stanford went very smoothly, so when I heard about how bad things were back in Iowa, it kind of surprised me," he said.
Lydia and Polina Lavrova, two sisters from Iowa, caucused for Sanders in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I’m disappointed by the incompetence of the Democratic party and their inability to communicate effectively and tell everyone what’s been going on,” Lydia said. “I think regardless of whether the meltdown of their system was intentional, I think it’s clear that it has unfairly benefitted Pete.”
But the sisters also said that no amount of party disarray would stop them from caucusing in the future. “I’m so fired up about Bernie that I’m willing to jump through all sorts of stupid hoops and deal with all sorts of incompetencies,” Polina said.
The Democratic field should be significantly narrowed by the time New York’s primary is held on April 28th, leaving many New Yorkers with FOMO. While Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have held massive rallies in the city and candidates like Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg routinely visit Manhattan for big money fundraisers, no candidate except Michael Bloomberg appears to have opened a New York City field office.