What happened in Iowa and what's next after caucus mess

Boxes of voter registration forms are stacked at an unmanned auxiliary office of the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020.

At least Missouri’s March 10 presidential preference primary still seems relevant.

Americans went to sleep Monday night without knowing which Democratic presidential candidate emerged as a front-runner in the Iowa caucuses. Not much changed overnight, as an app that was supposed to speed up results instead got blamed for sowing confusion.

Suddenly, that old-fashioned optical scanning technology doesn’t seem so bad.

Unofficial partial results were expected at some point Tuesday, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the winning candidate. The whole episode means that the victor won’t be able to claim much of a bump in momentum. Maybe it’s all forgotten after New Hampshire and Super Tuesday, but Iowa takes the biggest hit, with some rightly questioning the obtuse caucus process as well as Iowa’s status as the first-in-the-nation contest in the march to the White House.

The biggest problem in Iowa’s caucus mess isn’t the failure to gain a clearer picture of which candidate in this crowded field will challenge Republican incumbent Donald Trump. Nor is it that candidates like Pete Buttigieg looked foolish in expressing so much confidence even as it became increasingly clear that election night was descending into chaos. Those problems will sort themselves out in the months ahead.

The biggest problem, the one that extends far beyond Iowa, is that the confusion raises questions about the accuracy and integrity of election results.

And while Democratic officials in Iowa stress that no outside entity tampered with results, the lag in final reporting creates a seed of doubt that’s hard for many of us to shake. This is where election officials in other states and counties need to step up and vouch for the security and reliability in election processes in the rest of the country.

Part of the problem for Iowa is how results were processed through Democratic Party officials, who withheld technical details and did not conduct enough testing before the app’s first night.

Most elections run through county clerk’s offices or local election boards, with professional staffers who don’t unveil new technology on the fly. In Buchanan County, a public test of election equipment is scheduled for Feb. 26. This has the twofold effect of working out bugs and also reassuring the public that elections will run smoothly and results will be counted accurately.

We have no reason to doubt that, especially since Buchanan County still makes use of paper ballots. But we also believe now is the time for election officials to reassure the public following the fiasco that unfolded to our north.