Democratic Party officials in Iowa say they can't do a recount of Monday's razor-thin presidential caucus results between Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, even if they thought it was appropriate. And both candidates, in their debate later Thursday night, said it was no big deal.
Just two-tenths of 1 percent separated Sanders and Clinton in the first nomination contest of the 2016 presidential campaign. The statewide caucus meetings included reports of chaos in precincts and coin flips to decide county delegates, raising questions about the final count's accuracy .
"People physically aligned in groups," Sam Lau, the communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party, said in a statement. "There are no paper ballots to recount. Monday's caucuses were a unique event that involved more than 171,000 Iowans and their neighbors at a specific time and place, and thus they cannot be re-created or recounted."
In other words, there are no hanging chads to recount.
"County delegates are awarded based on Democrats who came to the caucuses on Monday who aligned and then realigned—sometimes for a different candidate than they initially supported," Lau said. "We are working with all campaigns on individual concerns they are bringing to us, and addressing them on a case-by-case basis. Just yesterday, we met with the Sanders campaign who brought us a small amount of specific concerns, and the Clinton campaign has also asked us a small amount of questions. We will look into these concerns and reach out to our county party leadership with any questions."
Unlike Iowa's Republican caucuses, where ballots are used, Democrats are often literally told to go stand in the corner. Their movement represents the candidate they support and delegate counts are then calculated.
With all precincts reporting, Clinton was awarded 701 state delegate equivalents, compared to 697 for Sanders, according to the Associated Press.
On Thursday, the Des Moines Register—the state's largest newspaper—used its editorial page to call for an audit following an election where Clinton apparently narrowly defeated Sanders in the closest Democratic Iowa caucuses in history.
"What happened Monday night at the Democratic caucuses was a debacle, period," the editorial said. "The Iowa Democratic Party must act quickly to assure the accuracy of the caucus results, beyond a shadow of a doubt."
"I agree with the Des Moines Register, but let's not blow this out of proportion," Sanders said during a candidate debate in New Hampshire saying that only two delegates were at stake. "This is not the biggest deal in the world."
Asked if she would support an audit, if that's what the state party wanted to do, Clinton said she would: "Whatever they decided to do, that's fine."
Unlike the primaries that follow in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Iowa's caucuses are run by the state parties and not by government, such as a secretary of state's office, so there is less election law involved.
The Sanders campaign said it is triple-checking results from each of the almost 1,700 precincts and expects that the process will take at least several days.
"Iowans who have committed countless hours to these campaigns deserve to have all of the facts," Sanders spokeswoman Symone Sanders said in an e-mailed statement. "Senator Sanders is committed to the democratic process and believes we should do all we can to get a full picture and accurate numbers from Monday night.''
Matt Paul, Clinton's Iowa campaign director, downplayed the situation in a statement.
"There have been a handful of instances—similar to issues raised in every previous caucus—where our reporting shows Secretary Clinton should have been awarded more delegates and we will continue to resolve them with the Iowa Democratic Party, but none would alter the result," he said. "Whether it's with the Iowa caucus or endorsements, this continues to fit an unfortunate pattern of the Sanders campaign to disparage results that don't come out in their favor."
The episode echoes the events in 2012, when Iowa's Republican presidential caucuses became mired in confusion and created an embarrassment for the state following a similarly close race between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
Romney was initially named the winner. Then, more than two weeks later and after a final accounting of most of the paperwork, Santorum was declared the victor by a 34-vote margin out of more than 120,000 cast. Numbers from eight precincts were never found or certified.
If the Clinton-Sanders race yields additional embarrassments, it could further threaten Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses, something always coveted by other states that want an earlier shot.
Santorum, who dropped out of the 2016 race on Wednesday, often pointed to his initial slight in the count and how it hurt his potential momentum.
—With assistance from Jennifer Epstein and Mark Niquette in New Hampshire.