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Lee Co. precincts at center of conflict over Iowa caucus totals

Christinia Crippes,┬áThe Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –

Lee County is responsible for four of the eight precincts not counted in the final tally of the certified caucus results that overturned Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s win in the first-in-the-nation state.

An onslaught of questions arose Thursday morning after the Republican Party of Iowa released its certified results without the precincts, starting with “How did this happen?”

Both the state GOP and county representatives said it was little more than normal human error that happens in any election and caucus.

“With a volunteer force and that many people involved, it’s kind of an all-volunteer system, and that’s where there are sometimes glitches,” said Matt Green, a Lee County Republican and former co-chairman. “I tried to oversee my site as well as I could.”

Lee County Republican Chairman Don Lucas agreed there are bound to be errors when there are more than 3,500 people responsible for submitting caucus results to the state. The Form E sheets required to be submitted to the state party to count in the final tally needed to be signed by the precinct chairman and precinct secretary at each of the 1,774 precincts in the state.

Lucas said the county generally followed procedure, by tallying the votes with witnesses and inputting the results on computers to get the information to the state. The missing forms that led to the results not being counted came from two Fort Madison precincts, 4a and 4b, and Franklin, Cedar, Marion precinct and Washington, Green Bay, Denmark precinct.

Lucas said two of the Form E sheets turned out to be lost on caucus night, and two of the forms were submitted to the state, but they were not filled out correctly and lacked signatures from precinct chairmen and secretaries. But Lucas said he had the ballots from those and the remaining 18 precincts still on hand. He said the numbers that were calculated on caucus night were the correct numbers, based on those ballots.

“There’s no fraud or anything else involved,” Lucas said, admitting human error in the missing and improperly filed forms.

Though the state party caucus coordinator pointed to human error as well, Lucas felt like the Republican Party of Iowa was putting the blame on him.

“The state is telling people I was negligent, which you can tell, I’m not too happy about,” Lucas said.

Green oversaw the precincts at the West Point Library, where one of the required forms went missing.

“I had four people searching for it for a good half-hour,” Green said “We were absolutely astounded it could have disappeared because the library is not that big. It was kind of like ‘What the heck?’ But that was what it was.”

Green said he alerted Lucas to the issues on caucus night, but Lucas said he wasn’t aware of the problems until he was told by the state party about four days ago. Republican Party of Iowa caucus coordinator Ryan Gough said the county party was informed about the missing forms in the same week the caucuses were held.

The state and county officials said the form was not a new process that was undertaken this year, and it should have been clear they were required to be turned in and submitted to the state party by close of business Wednesday. Gough noted 99.5 percent of the forms across the state were submitted correctly and 18 of 22 precincts in Lee County were submitted correctly.

“It’s not unprecedented to not get all the forms back. It happens almost every year,” Gough said. “It happened in ’08. Anywhere from eight to a dozen don’t come in for whatever reason.”

It just happened to mean a lot more in the 2012 cycle, where Romney was named the winner of the Iowa Caucus with eight votes in the wee hours of the morning following the Jan. 3 vote.

Thursday’s certified results suggest candidate Rick Santorum was the victor of the Jan. 3 caucus. According to the Associated Press, if the eight precincts were counted in the certified results, Santorum would have won by nearly double the 34 votes he had above Romney in the state party’s final tally.

Gough said because the race was so close, it essentially came down to those precincts that had certified results and those that didn’t.

“That’s how close it is. It’s pretty incredible. It’s a fantastic process,” Gough said.

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