Coin Toss Used to Determine Delegates at One Iowa Caucus

Here's an e-mail I received from an Iowa caucus goer tonight, someone I don't know but who has e-mailed me several times over the past few days:

My name is John E. Gall, I am a registered Democrat, and vote at Precinct 1 in Hiawatha, Iowa. Tonight, January 3, 2008, I attended the Democratic caucus for that precinct in support of John Edwards. There were 180 registered voters in attendance. I did not see anyone from the media. Prior to tabulation of the votes for each candidate, no mention was made by the chair of any provision for resolving ties in assigning delegates; i.e., if candidate A earns exactly 3.5 delegates, and candidate B earns exactly 2.5 delegates, which candidate gets the half delegate rounded up or down? The following is what I remember of the evening's events.


After caucusing, each candidate's votes were counted and recounted. Further caucusing occurred and another vote was counted, recounted, and reported to the secretary.

At that point, I asked from the floor if each candidate's vote totals matched the total number of registered voters present. The chair stated that the candidates' votes totaled 180, the correct total.

The chair and his helpers then tried to compute the number of each candidate's delegates. The attempt failed due to a problem "with the computer." The chair then stated that they would compute the numbers by hand. I spoke up from the floor suggesting that it be done with a calculator and one was offered by another voter. The math was done and the chair reported that candidate Obama won 3.5 delegates and candidate Edwards won 2.5 delegates.

Not knowing the procedure to resolve the half delegates, the chair phoned what he called his "crap" line, spoke with someone, and told the audience (voters had already begun to leave the building at this point) that each candidate would be awarded 3 delegates each.

An Obama supporter objected. An Edwards supporter objected. The chair again phoned someone, and after completion of that conversation, announced that the tie would be decided by the flip of a coin. I, and several others protested this and while this discussion was going on, another situation arose. A voter stated that she was undecided in her choice of candidate and was not counted.

If this was true, then some candidate's vote count was incorrect. There was no captain in charge of counting undecided voters and reporting to the secretary. The undecided voter stated she wished to change her vote from undecided and give her vote to Edwards. More protests.

At this point it was impossible to do any sort of recount as far more than half of the original 180 voters had left the building. A suggestion was made by a voter that the half delegate from Obama and the half delegate from Edwards become one undecided delegate. This was ignored by the chair.

After further acrimonious discussion and protests, the chair stated that he wanted an Obama supporter and an Edwards supporter to listen while a third call was made by speaker phone to his "crap line." I listened as an Edwards supporter. The chair reiterated the delegate computation and the situation of the uncounted undecided voter. I heard the voice on the speaker state that the undecided vote could not then be counted or added to Edwards' count in order to break the half-delegate tie and that a coin flip must be used to assign the delegate in question.

I then told the chair that I wished to record a protest about the use of a coin toss, and he said I could call his "crap line." I strongly believe the use of the coin toss was wrong and unfair to both candidates Obama and Edwards. Obama "won" the coin toss and got the extra half-delegate.

I would be glad to try to answer any questions you may have about the above. Interested in your comments.


Any thoughts or comments?

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  • Display: Sort:
    Here are the procedures for this (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by oculus on Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 12:01:03 AM EST
    Dem. caucus year:


    There is provision for coin toss but not sure if this was the proper application.  complicated.

    There is precedent for it (none / 0) (#1)
    by Molly Bloom on Thu Jan 03, 2008 at 11:58:47 PM EST
    I am too tired to look it up but there has been at least  recent local elections decided by a coin toss in the last decade.

    Would it have made a difference in this election? If not forget it.

    No Difference (none / 0) (#3)
    by BDB on Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 01:10:45 AM EST
    It wouldn't have made a difference, not with Obama's margin of victory.

    They were overwhelmed with caucus goers and did the best they could.  Unless there's some allegation of fraud or mismanagement that would make a difference - which I think is extremely unlikely - then I agree it's not worth worrying about.  Elections are run by people and people are imperfect.


    the more i read and hear, (none / 0) (#4)
    by cpinva on Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 07:26:14 AM EST
    the more underhwelmed i am by the iowa caucus. it may have been a great idea, 150 years ago, when few people ventured more than 20 miles from the town they were born in; modern telecommunications systems didn't exist; and most of its citizens worked on farms, stopping at nightfall, allowing them to go to the local caucus site.

    it's now an anachronism, hardly representative of either the state itself, or the country as a whole.

    it's time to tell iowa to modernize it's system, or be booted from the process.

    I hate to agree with cpinva (none / 0) (#6)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 08:18:15 AM EST
    about anything.

    But watching a party that complained bitterly about FL/000 and OH/0004 accept such as this is screamingly funny.

    I wonder if it was the hanging chads that screwed things up??



    We had to distribute 6 delegates among 8 (none / 0) (#5)
    by JSN on Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 08:04:25 AM EST
    candidates in our caucus. The first step resulted in reducing the
    number of candidates from 8 to 3 and getting preliminary distribution of delegates of 1,1,3 with one delegate unassigned.

    This is typical outcome and the disposition of the unassigned delegate is resolved in a variety of ways including a coin flip. In our precinct it was solved by enough people moving to the largest group so the final distribution was Clinton (1), Edwards (1) and Obama (4). The attendees were patient, courteous for the most part and helpful when needed.

    The caucus procedures are designed for an expected attendance of less than 1% of the registers voters in that precinct. When the attendance is more than 10% of the registered voters the procedures have to be simplified (all nonessential business is set aside) and almost all of the time is devoted to distribution of the delegates. If the attendance becomes larger than 25% the process will collapse under it's own weight.

    I think that the Iowa Democratic Party has shot themselves in the foot by staying with the caucus instead of switching to a primary.