Widespread problems in tallying the results of Monday’s Democratic caucuses in Iowa have caused confusion in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, as officials have delayed releasing results well into Tuesday. Into the vacuum stepped President Donald Trump’s sons, his surrogates and right-wing media allies, who quickly sought to push disinformation that the caucuses were somehow rigged.
“The fix is in… AGAIN. And we get to watch it play out on live tv. Incredible,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted.
“Mark my words, they are rigging this thing,” Eric Trump tweeted.
“Quality control = rigged?” Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 campaign director, tweeted.
The truth of what happened appears to be much more mundane. There were numerous technical and logistical issues with the reporting of results, in large part related to an app that the Democratic Party commissioned to help log the tallies.
In sending out groundless conspiracy theories, Trump’s sons and campaign attempted to turn a technical problem into a way to undermine faith in the voting process and smear the president’s political rivals.
“It’s particularly a concern for this kind of disinformation to come from those close to the president,” said Larry Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “It’s bad enough this kind of social media environment where disinformation can spread easily, but when you have it from sources that many rely on, it’s particularly dangerous.”
There is no proof for the serious allegation that Democratic officials had interfered with vote totals and potentially violated election laws. And there’s no indication the votes are lost or nonexistent because of the app failure ― they exist as hard-copy paper ballots that will remain as evidence of caucus results.
The Iowa Democratic Party says the app had a coding problem related to the transmission of results, but did accurately collect the results themselves. Some organizers also struggled to download the app in the first place. Phone lines became backed up as many tried to call in the results, leading to further delays and problems.
This is only going to get worse in terms of the disinformation that we’re seeing. Larry Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice
Rigging an election through an app failure also makes little sense, as it makes Democratic officials look incredibly inept and draws immense scrutiny to the proceedings.
“There’s absolutely zero evidence that the results that they’re putting together in Iowa are inaccurate in any way,” Norden said. “They’re double-checking with paper records that they have to ensure that the results are accurate.”
The Trump-world allegations echoed longtime Trump talking points that the Democratic Party is corrupt and trying to rig votes to protect establishment candidates or steal elections, pushing his far-right populist message that labels his opponents as liberal political elites.
“Dems rigging it in Iowa? … They just can’t let the People have their say!” Kayleigh McEnany, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, tweeted.
Trump’s campaign had already implied that there would be tampering with the Iowa results even before the app failure led to disaster, suggesting that Democratic officials would damage Bernie Sanders’ campaign in favor of Joe Biden’s. Parscale claimed he “could see Bernie getting messed with,” while Trump Jr. offered that Democrats could “set it up” for Biden to win.
Trump administration officials, conservative pundits and lawmakers also spread messages that created the appearance the tabulation app may have been hacked by a malicious actor. Trump boosters like Charlie Kirk, Ryan Saavedra and Benny Johnson all promoted the notion the vote was rigged. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway tweeted out a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson’s specific and unprompted claim that Democratic officials declined to have the agency test their app for cybersecurity. (DHS officials have also stated there are no signs of hacking). Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday asked “what are the odds” that the app failure “has nothing to do with a Bernie blowout and a Biden crash.”
Iowa was the first state to weigh in on what could be a monthslong primary process ahead of the general election in November. Monday’s debacle, and the president’s willingness to exploit it for political gain, has experts concerned.
“This is only going to get worse in terms of the disinformation that we’re seeing around elections,” Norden said.
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