Troy Price’s tenure as the Iowa Democratic Party chair officially comes to an end today as the party’s state central committee gathers to select an interim replacement. He announced his resignation on Wednesday, following over a week of fallout from the party’s breakdown in reporting out the Iowa Caucus results.
Though the chaos on caucus night resulted from a multitude of problems — a faulty app, an overwhelmed phone bank that was targeted by bad actors, volunteers’ issues with logging into the app, and DNC and state party preparation — Price made clear the buck stopped with him.
“If things don’t go well, ultimately whatever responsibility the IDP bears, rests with me,” Price told Starting Line in an interview earlier this week. “My presence here could stand in the way of what the party needs to do, which is electing Democrats in November.”
The very final results of the caucus are still in flux as the party moves forward with a recanvass request from the Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders campaign. Many errors still remain in precincts around the state, as the New York Times and analysts online have detailed.
For Price, the realization that the caucus results were going to be badly delayed came relatively early on caucus night.
“It was around 8:00 when the first results were supposed to get posted,” he said. “I was told the first results were about to go live. And then they didn’t go live.”
The issue, which would later be fully discovered, was that a coding error in the reporting app was causing it to only show partial results when loaded into the system. All the underlying data was secure and transmitted to the party properly, but the results couldn’t get put out from there.
“I gave it a little bit of time, about ten minutes to see what was going on,” Price explained. “Eventually, our tech folks came in and told us there was a problem. They characterized it as a ‘bug in the system,’ and they needed time to unpack it. That was the first moment we knew stuff wasn’t going to go well.”
Price noted, as Starting Line and many others observed, that everything seemed to be working well in the precinct locations and satellite sites up to that point. He added that their attempts to bring more Latinx voters and people with disabilities into the process had gone well. But the reporting problems were about to overtake all that.
“At the time, we didn’t know if it was a major problem or a minor problem that could get fixed,” Price said. “At that moment, obviously I was heartbroken, especially as the night wore on. I was heartbroken that this would overshadow the work that the 10,000 volunteers did across the state to make these caucuses work. And it overshadowed the great work this party did to make the process more accessible and bring more people into the process.”
Then came a decision: to push off any reporting until they could have better confidence the results they were getting were accurate. An early call in 2012 from Republican Party of Iowa Chair Matt Strawn that Mitt Romney had won the very close caucus that year (two weeks later it was determined that Rick Santorum won) would lead to Strawn’s resignation.
Meanwhile, the party’s backup phone system was quickly getting overwhelmed as precinct chairs waited long times on hold to report in a large series of numbers with the many candidates competing.
“It was more trying to get through minute-by-minute until we had to make the decision not to release results,” Price said. “That was a tough moment and a tough call to make, but we had everyone, all the networks and reporters were blowing us up, and we had to make a call. I erred on the side of making sure we can report out an accurate reflection of what had been reported to us. I wanted to make sure we got it right when he had to actually release results.”
Of course, the end result for Price personally was still the same.
Frustration over the problems led to intense criticism of the state party. Price’s position as head of the party became untenable, and he ended up deciding to leave before the recanvass process was complete, as he initially indicated days after the caucus.
“There was a bit of a quiet period, and a plan going forward to conduct a recanvass,” he explained. “I wanted to set the ship in the right direction, but I wanted to make sure that my presence as a part of that conversation doesn’t hinder.”
The aftermath of caucus night has been complicated for the IDP by the overwhelming online anger and threats directed at the state party and staff.
“I understand people’s frustrations, and I get why people are upset and angry, I do. There’s going to be time for us to figure out exactly what happened,” Price said. “The threats that our staff got were just unacceptable. I am deeply upset about it. They don’t deserve this.”
He defended the actions of the party staff, pointing to their quick response the morning after the caucus to disperse across the state and run down as many physical packets of results they could, noting that it was the fastest it’d been done of any caucus cycle.
“Our staff came together and worked around the clock, and some of them didn’t sleep for days,” Price said. “And the next morning, on very little sleep, we had 30 people out traveling the state the next morning picking up caucus packets.”
The Nevada Democratic Party, shortly after Iowa’s experience, decided not to use the Shadow Inc. app for their own reporting, but it’s not clear yet what their reporting system will be instead. Iowa’s phone reporting system got bogged down both by the number of volunteers who avoided using the app and fake calls from Trump supporters and online actors to slow everything down.
“My advice to [Nevada] is that they’re checking everything, and particularly on backup reporting that your systems are able to handle potential, what we saw, which was nefarious actors interfering and clogging up our phone lines,” Price suggested. “It’s not like we just set some phones in a room and said, hey, this was good enough. We did several dry runs on our call center. We worked on it and we figured out what the call rate would normally be. We believe we had that phone number [secure], but we did not account for that spreading across social media and people pushing people to jam the lines.”
Up to now, Price’s time at the IDP was largely seen as a success by most Democratic leaders, donors and activists in Iowa. In 2018, Democrats defeated two incumbent Republican members of Congress, won the state auditor’s office and flipped many Iowa House districts.
Price had become executive director of the party in 2013, left after a change in leadership in 2015, then returned as the party chair in 2017 following another chair leaving for health reasons. Today’s election will give Iowa Democrats their fourth chair in as many years. State Rep. Mark Smith, who was the House Democratic Leader for several years, is expected to be selected as the interim chair, though it appears that Joe Henry and Bob Krause will also run.
“We didn’t always get it right, but we got it right more often than we got it wrong,” Price said of his time as chair. “In spite of what happened on Feb. 3, right now, there is an infrastructure built in all 99 counties. There are new Democrats who joined our party through this process as a direct result of the work we did to make this more accessible.”
And while Iowa has faced massive national criticism over the past two weeks, Price is optimistic that locally the party has largely stayed united.
“What happened on Feb. 3 was heartbreaking from the reporting side, and I own up to the failures of the Iowa Democratic Party,” Price said. “What happened was unfortunate, but it doesn’t change the fact that our party is in a strong position to win in November, and everyone needs to remember that, including the Republicans.”
by Pat Rynard