Mitt Romney won the Iowa caucuses this week, with a very late-night announcement by the state GOP of his eight-vote margin over Rick Santorum — a percentage difference of 0.0065%. Or did Rick Santorum win? Or a really tricky question: Can we confidently say that either of them won?
It all started late Thursday, when a caucus worker in the town of Moulton, located in Appanoose County, told the CBS affiliate in Des Moines that the state GOP’s spreadsheet contained an error of his precinct’s returns — giving Romney 22 votes, when it should really have been just 2.
“I imagine it’s a good possibility that somebody instead of hitting 2 might have hit 22 by accident,” said the caucus worker, who claimed to have written down the local results to post on his Facebook account — and whose name, amazingly enough, is Edward True. “I hope so.”
For his own part, Santorum isn’t making a big deal out of the story. What is more, he said in an interview Thursday night on Fox News, with Greta Van Susteren, that there is at least another error out there somewhere, but going in the other direction.
“Well, here’s what I know. Having talked to the chairman of the — Matt Strawn, who’s the chairman of the Iowa — Republican Party of Iowa, that all these counties are going to be reporting in,” said Santorum. “They’re going to be certifying them, that there was one county where there was a 20-vote mistake in my favor, but there was a 21-vote mistake vote in Romney’s favor. So it actually netted out to what I understand is a one-vote difference.”
(That is, a one-vote difference for Romney, boosting his provisional lead to nine votes.)
Santorum also added: “But that doesn’t really matter to me. I mean, we — you know, we — this was a tie. And we came from, you know, 4 or 5 points two weeks before the election and ended up with 25 points. And the most recent poll, which was published four days — three days before the — excuse me, four days before the caucus, we were at 15 and we ended up with 25.”
Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn released a statement, very late Thursday night:
“Iowa GOP rules provide for a two-week certification process for each of the 1,774 precincts. The Iowa GOP will announce the final, certified results of the 2012 Iowa Causes following this process. Out of respect to the candidates involved, party officials we will not respond to every rumor, innuendo or allegation during the two week process. That said, Iowa GOP officials have been in contact with Appanoose County Republican officials tonight and do not have any reason to believe the final, certified results of Appanoose County will change the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.”
Meanwhile, the Des Moines Register reports that the Appanoose County GOP chairman, Lyle Brinegar, is denying that any mistake was made at all: “We stand by the figures that were presented by the Moulton precinct caucus.”
So what’s going on here? It is actually very possible that there are small, honest mistakes out there in the tabulation of the votes. These can result from accidentally double-tapping the “2” on a keyboard, as speculated above, to flipping digits around, or any number of typos on a late night.
However, Edward True definitely went too far when he told the local news, “When Mitt Romney won Iowa by eight votes and I’ve got a 20-vote discrepancy here, that right there says Rick Santorum won Iowa.”
Without making any judgment on whether True’s story is…um, true, there is no reason to think that this data-entry mistake would have been the only one. There could also be other mistakes throughout the state, hypothetically able to put things back in Romney’s direction.
So who was the genuine, first-place winner of the Iowa caucuses? Well, at this point, we really don’t know. And as the New York Times reported early on Thursday, before this news came out, there is no provision for a recount.
So as it is, we’ll have just to wait two weeks for the state GOP’s certification process to be done with — and even then, there could still be some room for reasonable doubt. After all, there is no recount process, and anyway, a recount might not be able to assuage doubt.
And by the time two weeks are up, we’ll all be too busy with developments from the completed New Hampshire primary, and with the current home stretch of the South Carolina primary, to really think of the completed Iowa figures as some earth-shaking development.
Messages left with the state GOP, seeking information on the certification process, were not returned.