Results from Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus have been greatly delayed due to “quality checks” and new reporting rules, the Democratic Party has said.
The party said the problem was not a result of a “hack or an intrusion”.
The statement came after Iowa voters packed caucus sites across the state with at least four leading candidates battling to win the opening contest of the 2020 campaign, and ultimately, the opportunity to run against President Donald Trump.
Long before any significant results were released, the candidates pressed ahead with post-election rallies claiming momentum.
“It looks like it’s going to be a long night, but we’re feeling good,” former Vice President Joe Biden said, suggesting the final results would “be close”.
“We’re in this for the long haul.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said he had “a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa” once results were posted.
“Today marks the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” he predicted.
Democrats hoped that Iowa’s caucuses would provide some clarity for what has been a muddled nomination fight for much of the past year.
But apparent technology issues delayed the results as the state party suggested turnout was on track to match 2016 numbers.
Party officials held a call with campaigns as concerns were growing over the delays.
Spokeswoman Mandy McClure said the party “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results”.
“In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report,” she said.
“This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.”
Des Moines County Democratic Chair Tom Courtney blamed technology issues in his county, relaying precinct reports that the app created for caucus organisers to report results was “a mess”.
As a result, he said precinct leaders were phoning in results to the state party headquarters, which was too busy to answer their calls in some cases.
The president’s allies also seized on the Democrat’s problems.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale floated an unsupported conspiracy theory.
“Quality control = rigged?” he tweeted, adding a emoji with furrowed brows.
The president had already been seeking to sow divisions in the crowded Democratic field and incite Sanders supporters, who believe the Democratic National Committee worked against him in 2016.
Pre-caucus polls suggested that Mr Sanders might have a narrow lead, but any of the top four candidates – Mr Sanders, Mr Biden, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg – could score a victory in Iowa’s unpredictable and quirky caucus system.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who represents neighbouring Minnesota, was also claiming momentum, while outsider candidates including entrepreneur Andrew Yang and billionaire activist Tom Steyer.
Iowa offers just a tiny percentage of the delegates needed to win the nomination but plays an outsize role in culling primary fields.
A poor showing in Iowa could cause a front-runner’s fundraising to slow and support in later states to dwindle, while a strong result can give a candidate much needed momentum.
The past several Democrats who won the Iowa caucuses went on to clinch the party’s nomination.
Meanwhile, billionaire Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is running a parallel campaign that ignores Iowa as he prepares to pounce on any perceived weaknesses in the field come March.
Later, the Iowa Democratic Party said it would release caucus results later and that the party was manually verifying its data.