What is a ‘Recanvass’?

Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez’s demand on February 6 2020 not only prolonged ongoing controversy surrounding the Iowa Democratic Party Caucuses — it also ignited interest in the process of a recanvass.

“Enough is enough,” Perez wrote on Twitter:

In light of the problems that have emerged in the implementation of the delegate selection plan and in order to assure public confidence in the results, I am calling on the Iowa Democratic Party to immediately begin a recanvass.

A spokesperson for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s office confirmed to us that a recanvassing in this scenario would not fall under their jurisdiction, since the caucus was conducted by a political party. But typically, a recanvass is not the same as an election recount; a recanvass is a review of vote totals conducted by local election officials. In a recount, by contrast, each individual vote is re-examined under a judge’s jurisdiction. The cost of a recount is also borne by the candidate who requested it.

Perez called for the recanvass after delays and mistrust ensnarled the caucus process — the hotly anticipated first primary vote for the Democratic Party as they work to elect a presidential nominee for 2020 that is supposed to set the tone for the upcoming election cycle — which began four days earlier. At the time Perez made the demand, the state party had released results with 97 percent of precincts reporting, showing that former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg had amassed 550.339 state delegate equivalents (often abbreviated by political wonks to SDEs.) Vermont senator Bernie Sanders was in second with 546.912 SDEs; however, Sanders led all Democratic candidates in individual vote totals, picking up 44,753 votes to Buttigieg’s 42,235 (again, with 97 percent of precincts reporting.)

State party chair Troy Price rejected Perez’s request in a statement.

“While I fully acknowledge that the reporting circumstances on Monday night were unacceptable, we owe it to the thousands of Iowa Democratic volunteers and caucusgoers to remain focused on collecting and reviewing incoming results,” he said, adding that should any candidate’s campaign request a recanvass that the party would “audit the paper records of report, as provided by the precinct chairs and signed by representatives of presidential campaigns.”

The caucus results were originally delayed by the party when it said it would institute “quality control checks” over confusion, general chaos, and reports of discrepancies in the numbers. The setback spawned widespread criticism online on top of unsourced allegations about the process and scrutiny regarding donations made by Buttigieg’s campaign to Shadow, Inc, the company that developed the app the party used to compile caucus results.

A New York Times analysis of the caucus results showed data “riddled with inconsistencies and other flaws”:

More than 100 precincts reported results that were internally inconsistent, that were missing data or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses.

In some cases, vote tallies do not add up. In others, precincts are shown allotting the wrong number of delegates to certain candidates. And in at least a few cases, the Iowa Democratic Party’s reported results do not match those reported by the precincts.