There’s an old joke: “I’m not a member of an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” We Iowans went into our caucuses expecting some snags. But Monday presented a whole new level of inexplicable, infuriating chaos.

The trouble at my precinct, in Ottumwa, started about 7:30 p.m. As chair, my role was to provide backup for the county’s precinct chairs, collect their materials at the end of the night and help them report their results. Another precinct couldn’t find a volunteer to chair its meeting, so I drove over to meet with their single participant, take down their result (Elizabeth Warren), and call it in. The volunteer who answered wasn’t even ready to take results yet — they were still answering questions about the new app that caucus chairs were supposed to use to send in their results. Then they told me, confusingly, that they already had the result for this precinct. That wasn’t possible, I said. As it turned out, they were having trouble with all the one-delegate districts and had to tabulate those results with pen and paper. Eventually, that got sorted out, and we reported the result of two more precincts.

After 9 p.m., disorder really descended. The app for reporting results wasn’t working. When I’d downloaded it on Jan. 31, the installation instructions had been convoluted: You had to fill out a survey, which then got you a link, and then you had to download a different app, and enter in a code from your email, and then you would get the real app. This was meant to keep everything secure. But we have caucus chairs who need their grandkids to program their DVRs, and the training for the caucus chairs hadn’t included any guidance. The party didn’t really roll out the app so much as drop it on the doorstep. On Monday, I fielded calls all day from chairs trying to download the app and getting blocked. When I tried to sign in myself, I was told that my PIN wasn’t valid. In our county, only two of the 22 caucus leaders were able to use the app successfully.

So across the state, counties just like ours called their results into Des Moines headquarters the old-fashioned way, flooding the phone lines and overwhelming the few volunteers assigned to this job. With each hour, more of my chairs gave up and went home. I’d already planned to take the next day off, so I offered to call on their behalf, and stayed on hold. One by one, the boxes piled up in my living room and dining room, full of caucus math worksheets in triplicate, delegate information forms, voter rolls, voter registration forms, presidential preference cards and all the materials to run the caucus.

One chair from Wapello County, in southeast Iowa, did manage to get through and call in her results. Unfortunately, by the time someone realized they hadn’t asked her for her precinct PIN, she had already gone home, leaving all the relevant paperwork with me. While I still sat on hold, I picked up a call from a volunteer who seemed to be sitting in an extremely noisy room, screaming at me for the precinct PIN. By the time we sorted it out, party HQ had hung up on me. I had to start all over again.

By midnight, I finally got through to a volunteer. She was calm and organized, and after I reported the last of the five precincts that I had ready at hand, I told her she seemed far too competent to be involved in this debacle. She laughed and told me to get some sleep.

Then, about 1 a.m., a volunteer rang me up, barking: Where were the results from Wapello County? I blearily realized that he must be trying to verify the results, but his tone made it sound like I’d been sitting back with my feet up all night — as if I hadn’t spent the past six hours trying desperately to report them. So I stumbled over to the boxes and read them out all over again. In the morning, a couple of my chairs told me that they, too, had been woken up in the middle of the night and scolded for not reporting.

Telling a story about how long you’re on hold is like telling a story about your airport layover: It’s boring, and no one wants to hear it. And whatever rudeness came from the volunteers was probably just a reflection of the tense atmosphere they found themselves in. But I don’t understand why all our interactions felt so bizarrely accusatory.

And this frustrates me most: Caucus day was supposed to be this great opportunity to showcase what Iowans thought about the candidates and all of the hard work we’d put in at the local level to organize it. People were excited to participate. And now, even as their votes will be counted, they’re going to feel like their voices were drowned out — that the big story was about the mess, and not about who they want to be our nominee.

As told to Post editor Sophia Nguyen.

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