The Republican Party of Iowa released their final tally of a meaningless number today. According to the certified totals of Iowa caucus votes, Rick Santorum in fact finished ahead of Mitt Romney by 34 votes. But there's a catch: the party is missing results from eight precincts that cannot be certified. There is no way to ascertain if those votes would have given Romney the lead. Still, by any measure, that 34-vote Santorum edge counts as an essential tie.
The bigger catch is that none of it matters. The Iowa caucuses are a straw poll, with no actual delegates selected through the vote. After the presidential preference poll at the start of each individual caucus, attendees are elected to serve as delegates to the county convention; a smaller group of those will be sent on to the state convention and eventually the national convention as delegates. Many caucus sites choose to portion delegates based upon the proportion of vote totals for each candidate, but most voters peel away after the presidential poll and before the boring work of actual politics gets underway. The presidential poll is supposed to provide us in the media with a definite measure to gauge the candidates, but the results have no bearing on electing a president.
In Adel, Iowa, at the caucus I attended, the room cleared out after the presidential business was completed and there were not enough people left to fill the precinct's slate of delegates. Any person remaining could sign up to be a delegate and Ron Paul supporters, who have learned how to game the system, dominated that round. This process—repeated at each of the 1,774 caucus precincts, even the eight with uncertified results—will actually determine which candidate receives Iowa's delegates later this year. And even then, Iowa's 28 delegates will likely have little bearing at the national convention in Tampa later this year.
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