DES MOINES (US): The Democrats’ first vote to select a candidate who will take on Donald Trump was reduced to a farce on Tuesday, with the party unable to declare the results in the Iowa caucus due to what it called a technical glitch.
U.S. president Donald Trump called it incompetence.
"The Democrat caucus is an unmitigated disaster. Nothing works, just like they ran the country," he wrote on Twitter.
Alluding to his own victory following Republican caucuses in the Midwestern farm state, Trump said "the only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night is 'Trump.'"
Republicans gloated over the setback.
With newspapers unable to run headlines declaring a winner in the first-in-the-nation vote, two candidates gave quasi victory speeches: leftist senator Bernie Sanders and young moderate Pete Buttigieg.
In a statement read on US networks, Mandy McClure, communications director at the Iowa Democratic Party, said further checks were ordered after "inconsistencies" were found in the reporting of three sets of results.
"This is simply a reporting issue," she said, not "a hack or an intrusion."
Figures released by the Sanders campaign five hours after the caucuses opened across Iowa showed Buttigieg in second spot, a strong showing for the candidate who was essentially unknown just one year ago.
"Iowa you have shocked the nation," the 38-year-old gay military reservist told cheering supporters in what sounded very much like a victory speech. "Because tonight, an improbable hope became an undeniable reality."
Sanders, running as a democratic socialist, also took to the microphones to proclaim he had "a good feeling we're going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa."
"Tonight in this enormously consequential 2020 election, the first state in the country has voted, and today marks the beginning of the end for Donald Trump," said the 78-year-old.
A Bernie supporter from Des Moines, 35-year-old Lauren Campbell, expressed nervousness at the results' delay. "As a Bernie supporter in 2016, it's very easy for me to not trust the system right now.
But Sanders later took the bold step of releasing internal, unpublished results from nearly 40 percent of precincts, showing him with 28.62 percent of the state delegate equivalent, the figure used to determine who wins the Iowa caucuses.
Buttigieg was credited with 25.71 percent, followed by progressive senator Elizabeth Warren on 18.42 percent, the data indicated.
Biden, the national frontrunner, was in fourth spot, at 15.08 percent, a disappointing showing for the candidate who has consistently claimed he is the person best positioned to take on and defeat Trump.
"The top finishers, probably Sanders and Buttigieg, could have used their showings to launch into New Hampshire for next Tuesday's primary. Instead, the story is the shocking incompetence of the Iowa Democratic Party," University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato told AFP.
Unlike secret ballot voting, Iowa caucus-goers publicly declare their choice by standing together with other supporters of a candidate. Candidates who reach 15 percent support earn delegates for the nomination race while supporters of candidates who fall short can shift to others.
It appeared the delays may have been exacerbated by new rules instituted after the 2016 election that require caucuses to report three sets of numerical data throughout the process, rather than one set previously.
Held across nearly 1,700 sites, the Iowa vote offers a critical early look at the viability of the 11 Democrats still in the race -- even though just 41 delegates are up for grabs, a fraction of the 1,991 needed to secure the nomination in July.