Sanders Alleges Cheating at Polk County Convention

Madeline Cano

“Today Iowa Democrats held county conventions in all 99 counties, as Democrats came together united in our goal to turn Iowa blue up and down the ballot in November,” the Iowa Democratic Party’s Sam Lau wrote in a press release Saturday after the results of the party’s county conventions leaving Hillary Clinton with her slight lead in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

Iowa Democrats did come together, but there was plenty of unity lacking between party activists still deeply divided over the choice between Clinton and Bernie Sanders and the latter camp seeking to turn more people out and take advantage of rules that leave delegates free to change their loyalties after the Feb. 1 caucuses (Ron Paul, on the Republican side, tried similar tactics when he ran for president in 2008 and 2012). The division came to a head at the Polk County convention, where recounts that switched a late-morning Sanders lead (pictured above) back to Clinton drew a sharp reaction from the Twitter account of Sanders himself:

After the recounts and the allocation of proportionate numbers of district and state delegates, Clinton came out ahead, 115 to 113 (PDF). Statewide, Clinton took 704 delegates to Sanders’ 700, roughly the same margin as the final caucus state delegate equivalent projection that left Clinton ahead 700.47 to 696.92 last month. But that lead could have vanished had the Polk County results turned out differently. (According to Progress Iowa Executive Director Matt Sinovic, who tweeted that Sanders’ allegation was “absolutely untrue,” the initial recount happened because delegate alternates were included in the first count, against party rules.)

Jess Mazour, a Sanders delegate who arrived at the convention at 6:30 a.m. to help set up a booth for the pro-Bernie CCI Action Fund, stuck around for more than 13 hours as the recounts dragged on and some delegates left in frustration (she became a district delegate). Mazour accused the rules committee responsible for deciding on the recounts of making decisions “behind closed doors” to benefit Clinton, adding that the process was easier to navigate for more seasoned Democrats supporting Clinton than many Sanders supporters who had never attended a convention before.

“People were frustrated, and angry; it was like one of those town hall meetings that you see in the movies, where the crowd is just outraged and impossible to control,” said Mazour, who is still optimistic that Sanders will become the party’s nominee after a huge upset in Michigan, citing as evidence a Clinton caucusgoer she met Saturday who’d switched their allegiance to Sanders.

“The process is the biggest reason” leading to the chaos and confusion, Mazour said. “It absolutely needs to be changed. But I think the reasons some of these recounts were happening were coming from party insiders who are Clinton supporters.”

Christian Ucles, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa (and Clinton supporter), dismissed the controversy in several tweets, one of which expressed his “disappoint[ment]” with a “conspiracy” floated by “opportunists.” Another admonished Sanders for his tweets:

Ucles elaborated in a six-minute Facebook video that he posted with a message: “The Hillary Clinton campaign isn’t trying to steal delegates. This is merely human error and discrepancies in a high pressure area. The polk County convention was tough, I know. Tempers have flared, let’s be good iowans, Democrats, and more important humans.”

The IDP faced strong criticism after the state caucuses last month over complaints of discrepancies and poorly managed precinct sites — among other issues — that Sanders supporters said called Clinton’s razor-thin victory into question. A recount that could have been handled better at one Des Moines precinct was one example, although because of how the state delegate equivalent numbers were reached, a different result wouldn’t have cost Clinton her victory. Misinformation also ran rampant, leading to a conspiracy theory about Clinton supporters supposedly manipulating coin flips to steal the win from Sanders.

But a different count at the Polk County convention, unlike a single precinct count or county delegate awarded by coin flip, could have flipped the statewide tally to Sanders; whatever the case, criticisms of the caucus process will surely linger on.

As Lau noted in the IDP press release, none of the national delegates ultimately responsible for choosing the nominee will be elected until the district and state conventions in April and June, and delegates selected for them today are still free to change their candidate of choice.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.