Four college professors in Iowa who teach classes about politics say the results of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses will be topic number one with their students. University of Northern Iowa professor Christopher Larimer has an “Iowa Politics” class that meets tomorrow.
“Fairly or unfairly, a lot of outsiders are going to look at this and say, ‘How can Iowa, which gets all this attention and should know that the results are going to be scrutinized, how can they not count 121,000 votes accurately?'” Larimer says.
Governor Branstad has defended the process, saying the votes are counted by party volunteers, not paid professionals. Larimer says that argument won’t wash outside the state of Iowa.
“Even though it’s a party event, it was viewed by the media and everybody else as a real election,” Larimer says, “and the fact that we couldn’t count what was probably considered a relatively small amount of votes for most people outside of Iowa is going to be very problematic, I think.”
Dianne Bystrom, director of Iowa State University’s Center for Women and Politics, says this episode underscores that the Iowa Caucuses are not an “exact science.”
“The narrative I think that should have come out of Iowa after the 2012 results were announced on the Caucus Night was that it was a virtual tie because…it’s not a very precise count,” Bystrom says. ” It’s run by the party. Every precinct is different.”
Bystrom teaches a class in the fall semester about political campaigns and she says most voters are “shocked” to learn that in some elections, not every vote is counted.
“We only have to think back to the 2000 presidential election and thinking of the hanging chads in Florida that most elections — even ones run by the government — are oftentimes imprecise and sometimes votes aren’t counted,” Bystrom says. “They only become an issue when they become close.”
University of Northern Iowa political science professor Justin Holmes agrees.
“It’s pretty hard to count things accurately when you have that many items to count,” Holmes says, “and 99 percent of the time it’s not an issue because the margin is so big that a little slop here and there doesn’t make any difference.”
Holmes teaches a course called “Public Opinion and Voting Behavior” and that class meets tomorrow.
“It’s a little disheartening to think that we don’t always get the results accurately and we don’t always manage to get every vote counted,” Holmes says. “On the other hand when the margin is this close, I suppose for some people it could be an incentive to say, ‘Look, sometimes one vote does matter when it comes down to a question of 30 votes.'”
The latest and now final tally from the Iowa Republican Party indicates Rick Santorum finished 34 votes ahead of Mitt Romney, out of more than 121,000 “presidential preference” votes cast on January 3, 2012. Barb Trish, a political science professor at Grinnell College, teaches a course about the presidency and the first class of this semester is scheduled for next Tuesday.
“Context is going to be important,” Trish says, “and what happens in South Carolina, what happens in Florida will probably determine how we see the results in Iowa, in an odd way.”
South Carolina’s primary is this Saturday, the 21st. Florida’s primary is 10 days later, on the 31st of January. While critics may point to the 2012 Iowa Caucus results as evidence of a lack of party organization in the state, Trish says political parties have become “phantom” organizations in modern politics anyway, as the candidates and their campaigns make direct contact with voters.
“It’s been that way since the early ’70s when the Democratic Party changed its rules and the Republican Party sort of followed suit,” Trish says, “and it put more power in the hands of the candidates themselves.”
Eight of Iowa’s 1774 precincts failed to submit the proper paperwork to Iowa GOP headquarters this week to have the vote tallies from those precincts counted. About 100 other precincts filed paperwork that hadn’t been filled out correctly, but the vote counts were confirmed by party officials.