CB caucus sanders

Bernie Sanders supporters cast their votes for the senator as Lori White holds her 14-month-old daughter, Hazel, during the Democratic caucus at Broadway United Methodist Church in Council Bluffs. 

owa jealously guards the first-in-the-nation status of its presidential nominating caucuses. But for the second caucus year in a row, questions are swirling around the outcome.

A very close Democratic race, with Hillary Clinton edging Sen. Bernie Sanders by tenths of a percentage point and reports of coin tosses at some caucuses, has raised questions about the accuracy of the results.

Sanders’ campaign has urged release of raw counts from what party officials described as a "historically close Iowa Democratic Caucus." Iowa’s largest newspaper called for a "complete audit of results." In an editorial headlined: "Something smells in the Democratic Party," the Des Moines Register said: "Once again the world is laughing at Iowa."

That "once again" reference was to 2012, when the Iowa GOP first declared Mitt Romney the caucus winner by eight votes, only to announce two weeks later that Rick Santorum had gotten 34 more votes than Romney. The state Republican chairman resigned, and GOP officials said before this year’s caucuses that they had aggressively addressed 2012’s problems with new technology, more staffers and beefed-up training.

Iowa Democratic officials so far have said there are no plans for a re-examination. And the caucuses are party functions, not elections.

Nonetheless, Iowa’s spot on the campaign calendar gives the state’s contests enormous impact. Since Monday’s caucuses, four presidential hopefuls have quit the race — Democrat Martin O’Malley and Republicans Rand Paul, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.

The Iowa caucuses are frequent targets for criticism, and their leadoff role has been challenged before. Leaving candidates and voters with questions about the outcome can only weaken the state’s position in the future.

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