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UPDATE (6 p.m.): Santorum Finishes on Top, But Some Want Changes to Protect First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucus

The state GOP has certified that results changed in 131 Iowa precincts from Caucus night and missing ballots in eight precincts weren't counted. Some are upset by how the finish was managed, while others defend that human error is to be expected in a vote

A messy, drawn-out finish to the Iowa Caucus appears to wrap up on Thursday with Rick Santorum leap-frogging Mitt Romney into first place after changes in 131 precincts and the exclusion of votes from the conclusion of eight precincts.

After a Caucus night that would not end because of missing precincts, the certification process was equally problematic. Iowa Republican party officials say they don't trust the results from those precincts and they will never be certified.

The final totals swung an eight-vote win for to a 34-vote margin in favor of Santorum, according to a certified vote released on Thursday morning. The final tally gives the former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum a win with 29,839 ballots over 29,805 for former Massachusetts Governor Romney.

"There is no question in our mind that the winner of the certified vote totals was Rick Santorum. Those are the numbers as certified during the two week required certification period," Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn told reporters at a news conference at GOP headquarters in Des Moines today.

Check here for from throughout the day.

Romney gained momentum from what was seen as an Iowa win despite little time campaigning in the state, and won the New Hampshire primary a week later. That momentum has now faded, with new polls showing former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich now narrowly ahead or in a statistical tie with Romney in South Carolina, which holds its primary on Saturday.

The finish leaves a bad taste for some who feel the in running the Iowa Caucus, while others say human error is to be expected in one of the closest votes ever.

“It’s a little like the newspaper business used to be years ago: You could have had the best journalists, the best printing press and the best ad sales, but in the end, you were depending on a 10-year-old kid to get the product to the door,” said Eric Woolson, who most recently served as Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign manager.

Woolson says that’s something party officials will have to reckon with, especially as other states eye with a sort of political envy Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status – and all of the national attention, advertising dollars and other economic benefits the caucuses deliver.

“It’s a party-run process that relies heavily on volunteers and it’s prone to errors,” he said. “It typically doesn’t matter because there’s a clear winner. A close race reveals all the flaws in the process.”

Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman Sue Dvorsky also stuck up for her counterpart, noting that Caucus nights for Republicans and Democrats are largely a volunteer-run endeavor.

GOP Leaders Say They Can Do Better

Former Iowa GOP official Craig Robinson, who now runs TheIowaRepublican.com, was critical not of the , but Strawn spending Thursday morning refusing to declare a winner after the vote certification was complete. He wrote an editorial on his website calling for Strawn to step down as GOP chairman. 

"For Matt Strawn to refuse to declare a winner of the caucus, it makes the Caucus a joke," Robinson said. "He cast a huge cloud of suspicion over the caucus process."

While there is griping about the counting, no one seems to be arguing that the slight changes to the vote totals, whether on Caucus night or now, make much of a difference in the race for the GOP nomination for president.

"Every close race has variances of results that can be disputed, whether it's a council race in Waukee, a senate race in Minnesota, or a presidential race in Florida," said Isaiah McGee, a Republican from Waukee. "On Jan. 4th, Romney called it a win, and Rick Santorum called it a 'virtual tie.' On Jan. 18th, Santorum called it a win and Romney calls it a 'virtual tie.'

"The Iowa narrative is still the same. Rick Santorum proves he's a legitimate contender and Romney proves he can compete without pandering," McGee said.

Still, plenty of Iowans are looking for how the Iowa Caucus will be changed for next time to prevent this from happening again.

"There's no doubt about that, we can do better and we will," said Andy Christenson of Johnston. "This brought out an enormous amount of voters this year."

Skye Alison, an agent with Osborne Insurance in Ankeny, said the process was definitely flawed the night of the Caucus.

“I don’t know what training or qualifications the individuals who do the counting must have and the procedures they have to follow,” Alison said, “but clearly it needs to be reviewed.

The missing precincts are as follows:

• Cerro Gordo County’s Mason City Ward 2, Precinct 3
• Emmet County’s Estherville Ward 2
• Franklin County’s Geneva-Reeve
• Lee County’s Fort Madison 4A
• Lee County’s Fort Madison 4B
• Lee County’s Franklin-Cedar-Marion
• Lee County’s Washington-Green Bay-Denmark
• Pocahontas County’s Center-South Roosevelt-North Lincoln

Maria Houser Conzemius January 21, 2012 at 05:42 PM
A passionate, outraged elderly man who caucused at a small town in Iowa north of Iowa City swore to me that when he went to his county convention in 2008, his representation had been changed from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama. A woman at the county convention told him the same thing happened to her. They couldn't get it fixed at the county level. No one would allow them to represent who they intended to represent, according to him, but he didn't get her name, so I couldn't contact her. No town or county officials would talk to me about it and I couldn't get corroboration or even answers from anyone else about it. Really frustrating. Obviously, this is just anecdotal evidence from one man, but it really made me think. There's amateurs at the caucuses on both sides and maybe worse. I think it's time to go to a primary with paper receipts on how people voted so there's no electronic mischief with the voting machines.
David Leonard January 21, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Maria, Iowa can't go to a primary because New Hampshire has rights to the first primary, and if they go first, there's no need for Iowa.

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