Remember the show Whose Line is it Anyway? The host Drew Carey would always start the show by saying “Welcome to Whose Line is it Anyway, the show where the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.”
Well, that is the case for these 20 or more votes as well, they don’t matter because of recent rule changes by the Republican National Committee. I recently wrote about the rule changes and how they could contribute to a brokered convention. The pertinent rule in this case is the fact that Iowa is required to proportionally allocate their delegates. Note, Iowa’s delegates are also unbound by the caucus vote results which is another reason why it doesn’t really matter, but I won’t focus on that, for the sake of simplicity I will act as though they are bound.
First, with around 120,000 votes cast for the 25 delegates that comes out to around 4800 votes represented for each delegate. The extremely close finish between Romney and Santorum means they will be allocated the same number of delegates. Roughly a swing of 2400 votes going from Romney to Santorum would be required to result in a change in the delegate allocation. I don’t think anyone claims mistakes to the magnitude occurred.
Second, mistakes are bound to happen. Hundreds or even thousands of volunteers participated in counting around 120,000 slips of paper in around 800 different locations (many precincts shared facilities). The current margin of victory is believed to be around 8 votes. A counting error once in every 15,000 slips of paper would be enough to change the victor in the absolute popular vote, and that amount of random error is not only plausible, in actuality it is likely much higher than that.
In most cases of random error, mistakes are made in all directions and usually cancel themselves out for the most part. Fraud (Bias) on the other hand tends to go one way and may have a bigger impact. Absent any evidence of outright widespread fraud, it is safe to assume that the errors are random and reasonably offsetting.
I believe we have a similar case here. Who won the Iowa Caucus absolute vote? I can say with reasonable certainty that either Romney or Santorum did. And that is the beauty behind the current rule change requiring proportional allocation of delegates. If it was winner takes all rules, getting the absoult vote winner correct could have a significant impact on the race results, but with proportional allocation of delegates, this will not impact the end result.
I think Santorum understands this as he is downplaying the story:
“Here’s what I know,” Santorum told Fox News. “Having talked to the chairman Matt Strawn, who is the chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, that all these counties are going to be reporting in, they’re going to be certifying them that there was one county where there was a 20-vote mistake in my favor but there was a 21-vote mistake in Romney’s favor so it actually netted out to what I understand is a one-vote difference. That doesn’t really matter to me. I mean, this was a tie.”
Unfortunately the media will not be downplaying the story. If the Iowa GOP does not play this very careful, maybe even explain everything I said above, the resulting narrative the media will develop is that Iowa can’t run a caucus, they screwed up. Although the mistakes won’t change the election, I agree with John Deeth, it could cost Iowa its first in the nation status. The Iowa GOP better walk on thin ice or it could sink the caucus.