By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES – Iowa Republicans are looking to retool party procedures to avoid missteps, such as naming GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney winner of the nation’s first caucus in January.
It took two weeks for party officials to certify votes, and then name Republican candidate Rick Santorum the actual victor.
He won by just more than two dozen votes, making it the fourth closest major race in U.S. political history, according to The Washington Post.
The snafu led party leaders in March to form the Iowa Caucus Review Committee to formally investigate the January mishap and propose remedies. Getting input from more than 800 people, the 17-member group released the following recommendations:
- Require statewide results be reported to the media at the same time, with the party declining to declare a winner on caucus night if the top finishers are within a 1 percent margin.
- Certify official results within 72 hours.
- Provide staffers with significantly more training, including the implementation of online tutorials.
- Look into using mobile technology, which would allow votes to be tallied and certified the same day.
“The thing we learned during this several month-long review is that when an election is very close any error – no matter how small – is significant,” said Republican Bill Schickel, who chaired the committee.
Their proposals go before the GOP’s state central committee, which will ultimately change or adopt them during its September meeting. State Republicans review caucus procedures every four years, but this is the first time Schickel could recall the assemblage of a formal committee, he said.
Caucus problems stemmed from a lack of standardization, said Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. For example, some sites used blank pieces of paper while others had a more formal ballot. The party also didn’t use technology, forcing officials to rely on the physical delivery of ballots.
“When you have something this close, in retrospect, it’s too close to call with uncertified votes and they should not declare a winner,” Bystrom said. “The caucus tends to have an effect on later primaries and caucuses. Santorum could have gotten a bigger boost out of Iowa had those been certified in a more timely manner.”
Santorum will kick off a “thank you” tour next month in Iowa, sparking speculation about another run at the White House. He will hold public events in Iowa City, Coralville, Cedar Falls, Dubuque, Bettendorf and Windsor Heights. It’s his first visit to the state since he was declared the winner of the caucuses.
Bystrom supports the proposed changes, saying it allows for a quicker turnaround in certifying official results, provides a uniform ballot and looks at integrating technology into the process.
“You want to preserve what’s good about Iowa’s caucuses – that they have that local down-home feel,” Bystrom said. “Their recommendations seem to preserve the feel of the Iowa caucuses but yet give them some more standardization.”