Inside the Democrats’ call center as chaos grew

Inside the Democrats' call center as chaos grew


DES MOINES — At a brief training the Sunday before the Iowa caucuses, Iowa Democratic Party officials told the volunteers tasked with staffing a telephone hotline system to arrive Monday morning with books, puzzles and games — they were unlikely to be busy for hours.

But throughout the day and into the night, the phones rang almost constantly in the so-called boiler room, where about 50 phone stations had been set up in a security-encased call center at the downtown Des Moines Iowa Events Center.  

On the other end of the phone lines were dozens of precinct leaders and county party chairs from across the state who could not download or log into a new cell phone app designed to allow easy tabulation and transmission of caucus night results. 

The volunteers tasked with helping the local leaders said they had never seen the app, nor had they been trained to use it.  

Iowa Democrats inside the room later described the chaos to the Des Moines Register, accounts that were bolstered by publicly available information from party officials, campaigns and candidates. But the clear problems did not trigger a change in strategy from the organizations tasked with ensuring the 2020 Iowa caucuses ran smoothly.  

Taped boxes of precinct results are ready to roll out as Johnson County Democrats party officials wrap up work following the caucus, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Coralville, Iowa.

Instead, officials with the party tightened communication from their centralized location and forged ahead with a plan that relied almost entirely on the functionality of a cell phone app that, hours before most Iowans would caucus, was already showing signs of collapse.  

Party officials would not publicly acknowledge any problems until hours later. A full tally of the caucus results would not be available for days. And the future of Iowa’s prized first-in-the-nation caucuses hangs in the balance as party leaders sort through the aftermath.


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