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Epic breakdown in Iowa casts spotlight on caucus system

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Democrats spent a year evaluating a record-large field of presidential candidates, all in search of someone they believed could defeat President Trump in November. But on the night they were asked to deliver a definitive result, the precinct caucus system broke down and Iowa’s place in the nominating process became the story.

Hours passed as the Iowa Democratic Party struggled to reconcile conflicting numbers from the roughly 1,700 precincts. Partial numbers from selected caucus sites that were being covered by television networks painted a confusing and sometimes conflicting portrait of what was happening.

In the absence of results in real time, it was anybody’s guess who was winning. By the time the results are reported, perhaps Tuesday, they could be subject to challenge or questions from one or another of the campaigns, and the scene will have shifted to New Hampshire, whose primary will be held on Feb. 11.

The one conclusion from the numbers that were being collected by the media suggested that the eventual winner would receive a lower percentage of the vote than any previous winner since 1972, when the modern caucuses were born. But that could end up being the secondary story. On Monday night, it was all about Iowa and not the candidates.

Iowans have prided themselves on their first-in-the-nation caucuses. Voters in the state have taken their role seriously, and over the years a culture has developed here of citizens who turn out to see and evaluate the candidates firsthand. Democrats often have ended up settling on a candidate who would go on to win the party’s nomination.

But whatever the culture that exists in evaluating candidates, Iowa has also come under strong and recurring criticism for exercising outsize influence on the nominating process. This predominantly white state, where agriculture is a dominant industry, is far from representative of the nation. The absence of a larger minority population, especially for a Democratic Party that has become increasingly diverse in its makeup, rubs raw many non-Iowa Democrats.

Beyond that, the caucus system itself is a target of criticism. Unlike primary elections, in which voters can cast their ballots in secret at any time of the day when the polls are open, the caucus process is far more demanding. Participants must arrive by a fixed time in the evening and be prepared to stay for several hours as the process of alignment and realignment plays out.

The caucuses disenfranchise some voters who, because of working hours or other issues, are not able to be at their precinct sites at the appointed hour. This year, special provisions were made to make it possible for those people to attend satellite caucuses at different hours. Still, the caucuses are cumbersome and to critics unfair as a result.

The caucuses were designed originally as party-building mechanisms, generally used by smaller states. For presidential candidates, they are seen as a test of organizing capability.

Defenders of the caucuses and of Iowa have long said that this is one of the few places where candidates must meet voters face to face, where they must answer questions and listen and perhaps learn about real life.

But even in Iowa there are questions about the prominence the state plays, given its demographics and small size. Now there is a bigger problem, and there is little doubt that it will bring more pressure on Iowa’s leaders to justify the system they have built than ever before.

The irony of what was happening Monday night was that it was the second time in three days when the expected did not happen. On Saturday night, the Iowa Poll, long considered the most reliable pre-caucus indicator of the standing of the candidates, was pulled just before it was to be released after technical issues threw into doubt the reliability of the findings.

Now the results of the caucuses themselves are being called into question. The campaign of former vice president Joe Biden sent a letter to the Iowa Democratic Party demanding answers and putting the party on notice about the eventual results. People in two campaigns said state party leaders hung up on a conference call when the leaders were pressed about when results would be released.

Around 11:30 p.m., as everyone was still waiting for the first official results, Mandy McClure, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Democratic Party issued a statement. “We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” she said. “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.”

This is the third time in as many caucus nights when Iowa has struggled to determine the winner of caucuses in real time.

Eight years ago, Mitt Romney was declared the narrow winner over Rick Santorum on the night of the Republican caucuses. But the absence of full results on caucus night left the outcome unresolved. Weeks later, Santorum was declared the official winner, but too late for it to give his campaign the boost he needed.

Four years ago, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders battled throughout a long night of counting. Clinton’s campaign claimed victory without knowing for certain that she had won. In the end, her margin was less than half a percentage point, and the Sanders campaign never truly believed that he had lost.

In the absence of results Monday, cable television provided reports from individual caucus sites. What the television audience saw was not particularly reassuring, especially to those who have been skeptical of or simply do not understand the caucus process.

Iowans gather in their precincts, break into groups to show support for their candidates, and are counted. When that count is completed, candidates who do not meet a threshold of 15 percent support in the precinct are declared not viable. Supporters of a nonviable candidate are then free to move to support another candidate.

It sounds complicated and looked even more complicated on television. Party officials had prepared what they believed was a system for reporting results that would be easy to use by precinct leaders and protected against possible cyberattack.

But this year also brought changes in reporting the numbers. Historically, the Democrats have reported a single number, something called “state delegate equivalents,” a percentage based on a formula devised by the party. That number, however, doesn’t truly reflect the number of people who show up for each candidate, only the order of finish among the candidate who are viable after realignment.

This year, the state party, in the interest of transparency and pressed by the Democratic National Committee, said it would report two other numbers, including the number of people who supported each candidate at the start of the caucuses. But as Monday turned to Tuesday, the party was left to tally the results with a backup system.

The absence of results created an odd ending to the evening — a series of speeches by the candidates all claiming in one way or another success or victory, and a promise to take the fight on to New Hampshire.That wasn’t supposed to be the way Monday ended. Iowans were hoping to show the rest of the country how they finally evaluated the candidates. Instead, even if the results are eventually reported, there will be a new and more challenging assessment of the caucus system.

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Local hockey players go 'Red at the Rink' to support teammate

In a nod to American Heart Month and a fellow local athlete, hockey players from the Keene, Monadnock and Fall Mountain Regional high schools will host a “Red at the Rink” fundraiser for Boston Children’s Hospital starting Wednesday. Donations will be made on behalf of Spencer Harrington, 16, a member of the Monadnock-Fall Mountain boys’ hockey team.

Spencer was born with a heart defect, called critical aortic stenosis, which required him to have five open-heart surgeries at Boston Children’s by the time he turned 5. Critical aortic stenosis occurs when the aortic valve narrows, reducing or totally blocking blood flow from the heart into the main artery and to the rest of the body, according to the Mayo Clinic.

At the time of his first three surgeries, Spencer said, he had a 50 percent chance of survival.

He went into heart failure when he was 10 and was placed on the transplant list. In the meantime, he was given a battery-powered mechanical pump and was able to attend public school for 5th and 6th grades.

On Feb. 4, 2015, after 13 months on the transplant list, 11-year-old Spencer received a new heart.

Today marks what he and his mom, Laurie Harrington, call his five-year ”Heartiversary.”

Now, the Walpole teenager has medicine he needs to take daily in addition to visiting a cardiologist every three months to monitor his heart.

“They mean the world to me because they’ve kept me alive for 16 years,” Spencer said of Boston Children’s. “Every time I walk out, I’m healthy.”

Spencer played hockey for one year when he was 6, but had to stop due to his condition. This is his second year playing high-school hockey.

“As a coach, I have never experienced a story like this from one of my players and it really helps put things into perspective,” said Monadnock-Fall Mountain Coach Steve Walsh in an email Monday evening.

Though initially worried Spencer might be limited in what he could do on the rink, Walsh said, he “has done absolutely everything asked of him with zero complaints. I am extremely proud of Spencer for what he has battled through and I am proud to be his coach.”

As part of the upcoming fundraiser, people are encouraged to wear red, which symbolizes cardiovascular awareness, at the Monadnock-Fall Mountain boys game Wednesday at 7 p.m., as well as on Saturday for both the Keene High’s boys and girls games. The boys team plays at 5:30 p.m., and the girls play at 7:30 p.m.

All of the games are at Keene ICE.

Donations will be accepted during all three games, along with two the following weekend, and those who give can fill out a heart with who they “play for.” The hearts will be displayed throughout Keene ICE until Saturday, Feb. 15, while donations are still being accepted.

The fundraiser, which isn’t a school-sponsored event, is being organized by Rebecca Russell, the president of the Keene High School boys ice hockey booster club and Jenna Tattersall, who is the president of the Keene High School/Fall Mountain girls ice hockey booster club.

Last year, the Keene High School boys team held a similar fundraiser to raise awareness for colon cancer. A senior on the team, Dimitri Seger, had lost his father to the disease.

“We try to do fundraisers for things that are close to home so that the kids can relate,” Russell explained.

In honor of February’s American Heart Month, the teams will also be raising awareness about the need for blood and organ donors.

Today, there are more than 112,500 people on a national waiting list to receive a heart or other life-saving organ, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Last year, 19,250 organs were donated from both living and deceased donors.

The donation tally will be finalized and announced after the second period of the Monadnock-Fall Mountain game Feb. 15, which starts at 3:15 p.m. at Keene ICE, and presented to Spencer and his family.

Donations, which will benefit the pediatrics department of the Boston hospital, will still be accepted through the end of the game as well as during the Keene boys game, which follows at 5:15 p.m.

Noting that athletes are taught to compete, Keene High boys hockey Coach Chris McIntosh said his team is inspired by kids like Spencer, who “are often competing for something much more important than a game.”

“To know Spencer is able to be a high school athlete and play such a highly competitive game like hockey, after going [through] what he has, shows you he is the ultimate competitor,” McIntosh said in an email.

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City sidebar: Public hearing on 5G wireless facilities in Keene is Thursday

At a public hearing Thursday, a proposal to establish guidelines for the installation of 5G technology in Keene will be up for discussion.

The draft ordinance would create location, design and aesthetic standards for installing small wireless facilities on public rights-of-way. These facilities are the implementation tool for the next generation of mobile networks, 5G, though they can also be used for 4G.

The public hearing is slated for 7 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall.

While traditional cell towers stand up to 200 feet tall with signals that travel for miles, small wireless facilities consist of boxy antennas that can be attached to existing structures, such as buildings or light poles. Connected by fiber optic cable, the cells are installed every few blocks because they emit higher-frequency radio waves that don’t travel as far or penetrate buildings.

With the improved technology of small cells, 5G would allow faster download and upload speeds and better connectivity between devices, such as with Bluetooth.

At a meeting of the City Council’s planning, licenses and development committee last month, the draft ordinance made an appearance for a third time, and city staff again requested a delay. The committee recommended that the council hold a public hearing, however, after listening to concerns about the technology from attendees.

Some, including Councilor Terry M. Clark, fear the high-frequency electromagnetic fields could pose health risks, especially since small cells would be placed close together. More than 250 scientists and doctors worldwide, including more than 30 from the U.S., have signed on to the 5G Appeal, which calls for the European Union to stop the rollout of 5G, and last year New Hampshire became the first state to create a commission to study the health effects of 5G.

There hasn’t been much definitive research on 5G, though, and at least two organizations that develop exposure guidelines for radiofrequency electromagnetic fields — the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection — have said the technology would be within a safe range.

The city’s ordinance doesn’t come down in favor of or against 5G, but is a response to federal requirements.

The Telecommunications Act says local governments can’t discriminate against certain providers or “have the effect of prohibiting” wireless service. So if a municipality allows utility and phone poles on its public rights-of-way, it can’t categorically bar the installation of small cells.

In the Federal Communications Commission’s 2018 Small Cell Order, the agency outlined regulations that would meet the threshold of “effectively prohibit[ing]” service — which would open a municipality up to a lawsuit — and restricted what local governments can require of providers.

The FCC order also gave towns and cities deadlines for processing small cell applications: 60 days for attaching to an existing structure and 90 days for new construction.

As it stands, there’s no mechanism for Keene to handle such an application. The closest thing to an alternative would be the telecommunications ordinance, which the N.H. Municipal Association has urged against using as a stand-in for small cells because of the technical and legal complexities.

Closing arguments delivered in Senate trial

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s lawyers and House impeachment managers issued their closing arguments Monday, with Democrats arguing the Senate has a “duty” to convict Trump and the president’s legal team saying senators would “vindicate” the right to vote by leaving the matter to voters in November.

With Trump’s acquittal all but assured Wednesday, both parties did their best to limit defections from their side of the aisle and pick off votes from the other.

“Is there one among you who will say: ‘Enough’?” asked Rep. Adam B. Schiff, telling GOP senators that even a single vote for conviction from one of them would make an important statement.

He said anyone who doesn’t vote to convict Trump will see their name “tied to his with a cord of steel for all of history.”

“A man without character or ethical compass will never find his way,” said Schiff, D-Calif. “You are decent. He is not who you are.”

The House impeached the president in December for withholding military aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine while pressuring that country’s leadership to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. No Republican supported impeachment in the House — and the White House is hoping that no Republican does so in the Senate, ensuring the effort will go down in history as one backed only by Democrats.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, seen as one of the few Republicans who might break with her party, announced Monday evening she would not support removing Trump from office, though she called his actions “shameful and wrong.” She said Trump degraded the office of the presidency, but that ultimately the House inquiry and the Senate trial were so unfair, she could not vote to convict.

Trump’s lawyers reiterated that Trump didn’t do anything wrong and condemned the House for imposing a partisan impeachment on the country, playing a video of some House Democrats calling for impeachment shortly after the president was elected in 2016.

“The president has done nothing wrong and these types of impeachments must end,” said White House counsel Pat Cipollone. “You’ll vindicate the right to vote. You’ll vindicate the Constitution. You’ll vindicate the rule of law by rejecting these articles.”

Friday’s vote to block subpoenas for witnesses and documents was the most significant point of suspense in the two-week impeachment trial. Republicans blocked that motion, meaning there is nothing left to do but wind down the trial and hold the final vote on whether the president should be removed from office.

“Your duty demands that you convict President Trump,” Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., another House manager, said. “Today you have a duty to perform with fidelity, not without a sense of surrounding dangers, but also not without hope.”

Trump’s lawyers focused in on the idea that the Senate should leave the decision of Trump’s fate to the voters, tapping into the conclusion reached by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Alexander, who was considered a possible swing vote on the question of witnesses, said on “Meet the Press” Sunday that Trump’s actions amounted to “crossing the line.” But he also said the conduct did not rise to the level of removing the president from office.

“Our founding documents provide for duly elected presidents who serve with ‘the consent of the governed,’ not at the pleasure of the United States Congress,” Alexander said in his statement Thursday. “Let the people decide.”

Following closing arguments Monday, senators began giving speeches on the Senate floor to explain their vote, a process that will continue for the next two days. The final vote on conviction or acquittal won’t take place until Wednesday afternoon.

The conclusion of the trial was delayed for the Iowa caucuses Monday, the State of the Union Tuesday and the fact that many senators want time to deliver a speech.

Democrats were cynical about the upcoming acquittal vote, echoing what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has been saying since the beginning of the impeachment inquiry: no one is above the law.

“On one level, I knew this would be the likely outcome,” Sen. Brain Schatz, D-Hawaii, said on the Senate floor. “On behalf of everyone who couldn’t get away with an unpaid traffic fine, is in jail for stealing groceries to eat, who can’t get a job because of medical debt — I say, shame on anyone who places this president, any president, above the law.”

One undecided Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, proposed that the Senate censure Trump, a tactic attempted by Democrats during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. But Republicans have widely dismissed that idea.

“Censure would allow a bipartisan statement condemning his behavior in the strongest terms,” Manchin said.

Republicans were generally split on whether they believe Trump did nothing wrong or whether Trump’s actions in Ukraine were wrong but didn’t rise to the level of impeachment.

But several chastised the House for presenting a case that they said was flawed, including not subpoenaing witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton, who rebuffed a House request to testify but more recently said he would reply to a Senate subpoena.

“After nine days of presentation and questions, and after fully considering the record, I’m convinced that what the House is asking us to do is constitutionally flawed and dangerously unprecedented,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.

Even as the trial was wrapping up in Washington, the first contest to determine who will run against Trump this fall was already underway. The four senators who are also running for the Democratic presidential nomination rushed from Iowa back to Washington for the closing arguments on Monday.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., admitted that she would have been crisscrossing the state over the last two weeks if she wasn’t sitting in the trial in Washington. She refused to say whether she thought it would have any effect on her placement in Iowa.

“Obviously, the last week I would have been the (candidate) that would have been on some crazy schedule to every small town in Iowa. And I couldn’t do that. But we’ll let the chips fall where they may,” she said.

The Constitution requires 67 votes to convict the president and remove him from office — a high bar considering there are 53 Republicans in the Senate. It remains unclear whether any Democrats will break ranks to vote for acquittal or any Republicans will vote for conviction.Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, a Democrat representing a state where Trump won substantially in 2016 and one of those remaining swing votes, said he’s still undecided.

“I’m getting there. I’m going through all of my notes. I’m going through everything,” he said. “I really do want to hear arguments and conversations from colleagues.”