The errors started to emerge even before Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the Iowa caucus by eight votes. By the time the results were certified two weeks later, mistakes had been found in so many districts that the state Republican Party chairman declared that it would be impossible to determine a winner. Critics responded almost immediately with a seemingly obvious assertion: real elections have winners. But even after the party chairman reversed himself and called the race for Rick Santorum, many state leaders justified the confusion in a way that may appear at odds with the level of attention awarded the first-in-the-nation caucus: This was not, in fact, a real election.
That argument, made by everyone from the state’s governor to the editorial page of its largest newspaper, distinguished between the exacting standards of a professional state-run primary and the assumed informality of a party-run, volunteer-staffed caucus, in which the votes do not even officially count.
Nevertheless it was a startling admission in a state that has fiercely defended the significance of an event that plays an outsize role in shaping nomination contests — and the state’s own sphere of influence — and it highlighted the relative unreliability of a voting process already criticized as being undemocratic.