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8 Precinct Vote Totals Missing From Iowa Caucuses


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene.

You may have thought Iowa was done counting its votes a few weeks ago. Well, then came the news this week that based on further review, Rick Santorum actually won more certified votes than the declared winner, Mitt Romney. The problem is the tallies from some precincts remain lost. And yesterday, Iowa's GOP chairman called the overall results inconclusive.

We'll wait to see if this news changes the game for Romney or Santorum. But all this could hurt the reputation for the first voting state. Iowa Public Radio's Kate Wells has more.

KATE WELLS, BYLINE: Say what you will about whether Iowa deserves to have the first-in-the-nation caucuses. No one is arguing these things are an exact science.

MATT STRAWN: The Iowa caucuses are almost an exclusively voluntary-run operation. So these precinct chairs in the 1,774 precincts are all volunteers.

WELLS: That's Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn. He says this was an unbelievably close vote, but there was human error. And over the past two weeks, as the party certified the vote, stuff turned up. Precinct captains had made typing errors, some finalized counts got lost in the mail, as Strawn detailed yesterday.

STRAWN: So what we announced was the certified final results that show Rick Santorum leading, had led, won, the certified vote total by 34 votes.

WELLS: But before Santorum could get out that belated confetti, Iowa's GOP added: Eh, we're still not totally sure what really happened on caucus night because eight precincts' final tallies are just lost.

STRAWN: We just weren't able to announce a hundred percent of certified precincts.

WELLS: That vagueness is a big part of why both Santorum and Romney still disagree about who won Iowa.

DAVID KOCHEL: We've said from the beginning that, you know, the Iowa result was a virtual tie.

WELLS: David Kochel is an Iowa advisor for the Romney campaign.

KOCHEL: So this doesn't change anything in the trajectory of the race.

WELLS: Needless to say, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's campaign disagrees. Hogan Gidley is their national communications director.

HOGAN GIDLEY: The narrative that Mitt Romney was 2-0 heading into South Carolina is no longer the narrative. We've won one. He's won one.

WELLS: Now, all this is a bit ironic, actually, because the caucuses are more accurate than ever. There's more training and better precinct counts. But the actual vote-casting is still low-tech. Think of a vote for class president, then picture that happening all across the state all at the same time. So for Craig Robinson, former political director of the Iowa GOP, the problem isn't that there are revised results.

CRAIG ROBINSON: The problem is, is I think Chairman Strawn's spinning of the results. He's saying it's inconclusive and he can't declare a winner. I think that's a crime. The vote is either certified, which it is, or it isn't. Strawn is out there saying, well, it isn't. We don't really know who won because of these eight precincts. I think it's horrible for the caucuses and I think it's very damaging for the future of the Iowa caucuses.

WELLS: But maybe in the future a little less hype about the caucuses wouldn't be such a bad thing, says Dennis Goldford of Iowa's Drake University.

DENNIS GOLDFORD: Given the fact that the caucuses have become such a media event and bear more political weight than they really should, it's probably about time that this happened to the caucuses.

WELLS: So while Iowa may have an asterisk this year, come 2016, candidates will likely troop back out to the state's pizza joints and pancake breakfasts, armed with the knowledge that in Iowa anything can happen. Even after all the votes are in.

For NPR News, I'm Kate Wells in Iowa City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate Wells
Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist and co-host of the Michigan Radio and NPR podcast Believed. The series was widely ranked among the best of the year, drawing millions of downloads and numerous awards. She and co-host Lindsey Smith received the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Judges described their work as "a haunting and multifaceted account of U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s belated arrest and an intimate look at how an army of women – a detective, a prosecutor and survivors – brought down the serial sex offender."