Panel: Iowa Caucus needs better worker training, faster certified results

More recommendations may come to address 2012 caucus troubles

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March 31, 2014 | 8:43 pm

A panel of Iowa Republicans looking at how the party’s 2012 precinct caucuses went wrong is expected to recommend more pre-caucus training, a more open process for releasing the results and a 72-hour certification process.

The GOP’s Caucus Review Committee may hear additional recommendations when it meets at 1 p.m. June 25 at Western Iowa Technical College in Sioux City, according to Bill Schickel, co-chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa and chairman of the review committee.

The GOP ran into trouble when Mitt Romney was initially declared the winner of the Jan. 3 precinct caucuses with an eight-vote margin over Rick Santorum. However, when the results were certified two weeks later and released to the Des Moines Register, Santorum had 34 more votes than Romney.

“The lessons we have learned are that the smallest of errors are significant in any election,” Schickel said on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River, “and how you release the information is as important as the information itself.”

“We ran a fairly low-tech operation last time, yet we had a record turnout, the closest elect in history and 99 percent of precincts reporting caucus night,” he said.

At two previous public meetings to gather input on caucus changes the panel has heard of the need for more and better training for precinct caucus leaders and more transparency in counting ballots and reporting results.

Schickel agrees “there was some damage to the reputation of the Iowa caucuses.” However, he added, “the mistakes that were made are very fixable -- and that’s what we intend to do.”

His recommendations include standardized ballot forms at the 1,700-plus precinct caucuses and counting the ballots in the presence of the caucus attendees.

Other recommendations include:

  • If the spread between the first- and second-place candidates is less than 1 percent, no winner should be declared on caucus night.
  • The certification process should be collapsed to 72 hours so the results are known before the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary election.
  • Caucus results should be released to everyone at the same time.
  • The party should offer more and better training for all caucus participants and start earlier.

University of Iowa computer science professor Douglas Jones, co-author of “Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?” believes the recommendations “seem pretty sensible.”

He agreed that how information is reported can be as important as the information itself.

As far as certification, Jones wasn’t sure 72 hours was long enough.

“The pressure from media to declare a winner can be poisonous,” he said. While two weeks is too long to wait for results, he wondered if two days are too little time.

Listen to Schickel and Jones on River to River here. The interview with Schickel starts at about the 35 minute mark.

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