Nate Cohn, Josh Katz, Denise Lu, Charlie Smart, Ben Smithgall and Andrew Fischer analyzed the reliability of the caucus results, for the New York Times. My takeaway is that the caucuses are far too complex for providing an accurate distillation of voter preferences. They're fine for selecting county delegates, who then select state delegates, who then vote on who to support at the national convention. There's a certain elasticity to results when preferences are being filtered through that many levels of trust and reasoned judgment. That may have been the world we lived in 100 years ago, but it's not today's world, when voters expect their caucus alignment to directly support a given candidate.
You should read the entire article to see all of the different ways that the results got fouled up. Here's a sample.
The results released by the Iowa Democratic Party on Wednesday were riddled with inconsistencies and other flaws. According to a New York Times analysis, 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.
“The caucus math work sheet is the official report on caucus night to the I.D.P., and the I.D.P. reports the results as delivered by the precinct chair,” [Mandy McClure, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Democratic Party (I.D.P.)] said. “This form must be signed by the caucus chair, the caucus secretary and representatives from each campaign in the room who attest to its accuracy. Under the rules of the delegate selection process, delegates are awarded based off the record of results as provided by each precinct caucus chair.”
To emphasize: the Iowa Democratic Party collates the results and publishes them, but isn't actually responsible for validating the data coming from the precincts. If it's calculated wrong at the precinct level, it'll stay that way.
The errors are detectable because of changes to the way the Iowa Democratic Party reports its results, put in place after the Sanders campaign criticized the caucus results in 2016. This cycle, and for the first time, the party released three sets of results corresponding to different steps in the caucus process. The rules are complex and thorough, and they create conditions in which the results can be obviously inaccurate or inconsistent within a precinct.
That these errors are only detectible now, after the Sanders campaign insisted on collecting and reporting more data, makes me wonder how often the numbers have been wrong before.
The Iowa Democratic Party has corrected some errors, but the errors became far more frequent on Wednesday as the count dragged on.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Iowa Democratic Party released a wave of results showing Deval Patrick sweeping central Des Moines. That was incorrect. Mr. Sanders’s votes had been reported as being for Mr. Patrick, while Elizabeth Warren’s tallies went to Tom Steyer.
A plausible explanation is that an Iowa Democratic Party staff member accidentally copied the results of one column too far to the left in a spreadsheet for some precincts. Such errors inevitably occur in manual data entry, but the Iowa Democratic Party does not appear to have enough quality checks to assure that it reports accurate results.
What's the point of having a state-level political party if it's not setup to do the work of actually collecting and disseminating reliable information about what its members want? It sounds like a debate club with delusions of grandeur.