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Iowa debacle doesn't inspire confidence

They had one job.

Iowa Democrats were poised on Monday night to launch the 2020 presidential campaign, starting the process of choosing the nominee who will take on President Donald Trump in November. Instead, the vote-counting process was a train wreck, starting with the failure of a new smartphone app and ending with party officials deciding to wait until sometime Tuesday to begin announcing results.

Not a good look for the state that is famously first in the nation, for no discernible reason except that Iowans like the attention and want to keep it that way. After this year, however, they may have second thoughts. The rest of the country certainly will.

And, lest anyone think Tuesday’s debacle was unique to the Democrats, eight years ago it was the Republican caucuses that failed to do their job.

In 2012, Iowa Republicans said Mitt Romney had won the state by eight votes. He went on to win the New Hampshire primary, but eight days after that, the Iowa GOP admitted that, in fact, Rick Santorum had won there, by 34 votes.

The Washington Post reported that some Republican votes were misallocated, and some were simply lost. Regardless, it was an embarrassing performance.

This year, it was the Democrats’ turn to trip on their shoelaces. Relying on a new smartphone app that hadn’t been thoroughly tested, party officials discovered the system was not reporting all the results from the caucuses, so they switched to a different system for tallying votes.

Why the party decided to go with a new app developed by a startup company instead of staying with the Microsoft app they used in 2016 is a mystery, but it has given rise to conspiracy theories, helped along by initial secrecy about the company behind the app and then revelations that it was founded by former staffers for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

The reality is that the party implemented a paper trail after the 2016 caucuses, collecting a card from each caucus participant that can be checked against reported results. So the final tally, however late it might be, is likely to be accurate.

That doesn’t inspire confidence among the voting public, however. And the perception of incompetence plays right into the hands of the president, who lost no time tweeting that the Democratic caucuses were an “unmitigated disaster.”

Coming off their failed impeachment trial in the Senate, Democrats needed to show they could pull off a smooth caucus night in Iowa and begin the process of choosing who will challenge Trump. If they don’t get their act together soon, it’s going to be a long election year.