STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.
Do social media reactions to video showing Republicans putting ballots in a brown paper bag during the Iowa Caucus correctly assume an absence of election integrity measures at the caucus? No, that is not true: Kelley Koch, the Republican chair of Dallas County, where the votes in the video were being tallied, told Lead Stories the ballots are preprinted with a watermark and were distributed at the caucus. Voters were required to show identification to prove they were a precinct resident and to get an official paper ballot. The paper bags were selected ahead of time to be a simple vote-gathering mechanism.
Iowans voting, writing their candidate's name on a piece of paper, throwing it into the paper bag to be tallied
This is what the post looked like on X at the time of writing:
(Source: X screenshot taken on Tues Jan 16 16:42:29 2024 UTC)
Social media users were quick to mock the process, with references to Donald Trump's insistence the 2020 election was stolen from him:
- "Proof of election fraud on the Republican side. Numerous people throwing multiple pieces of paper, aka votes, into a brown bag. No one double checking," wrote @EricMacCarthy on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
- "He won Iowa. Not the presidential election where voting is actually secure" Twitter user @deliver1960 wrote in a quote tweet of @mattsmith_news' post.
- X user @thelounge_fly quote-tweeted Smith's post, too, writing: "Yup, #GOP vote rigging... After years of venom and failed litigation to cancel the election, and an attempted insurrection... This is how sick puller Trump wins in Iowa... Paper bag elections. And they say the #Dems are corrupt?"
By comparing items in the background to photos of known voting sites, Lead Stories identified the video as having been filmed at the MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex, at 6500 Grand Ave., West Des Moines, Iowa, which is in Dallas County. The complex had three precincts voting there -- 222, 321 and 322. As the Denver Gazette reported (archived here), former President Donald Trump's son, Eric Trump, was in the voting center the night of the caucus.
Koch (archived here), the site leader at the complex, spoke with Lead Stories via telephone on January 16, 2024, and confirmed that the video was taken at that location, where she was supervising the voting. She explained that the pieces of paper seen in the video were preprinted ballots with a watermark and not "random papers floating around":
Our ballots were preprinted and it looked like a prescription pad and each pad had 100 sheets. So we knew of every caucus site in the county. How many ballot pads were gonna go? We counted them, we documented them, they're marked, we watermarked them.
She shared a photo of the ballots with the watermark on the bottom of the 4-inch by 6-inch paper that read "Mifflin." That was the middle name of George Mifflin Dallas, vice president from 1845 to 1849, for whom the county is named (archived here). The top of the ballot read, "DALLAS COUNTY REPUBLICANS PRESIDENTIAL STRAW POLL OFFICIAL BALLOT":
(Source: Courtesy photo from Kelley Koch taken on Tue Jan 16 20:54:49 2024 UTC)
She described how voters received the watermarked ballot:
It's show your ID, prove that you're a precinct resident. Show another ID. If you're not on the voter list, if we can't find you and you want to be a Republican, you have to complete a voter registration form which goes to the county auditor and they check it. If it's fraudulent, it goes to the attorney general, if it's good, you're in.
One paper ballot per human, per registered Republican.
Koch said that what was seen in the video was a process that they had prepared for over five months. She explained the paper bag to gather the votes:
So what we thought about is a paper bag. You know, our boxes are a typical banker's box, nothing fancy, but we folded up a paper bag and then we had volunteers after everybody voted, we made everybody come down because everybody wanted to watch the county and they simply put their ballot in the bag. It was a collection device and then the paper bags were taken to a table.
Koch said it was "normal people dumping their ballot on very large tables and then it was nothing fancy":
It was a counter, the poll recorder, the chair of that precinct and the secretary. And everybody huddled around like a big football huddle. And, in order, the poll recorder would look at the vote, hand it to the chair. The chair would say Trump and then the secretary would look on a grid on a spreadsheet, write one for Trump. And literally, that's how they did it out loud, not in a hallway and not in a closet, not electronically...
She explained that the method they used for determining the number of preprinted ballots was not a "random number" and that they had about 900 ballots ready for the night:
We went back to 2016. And people would say, well, why didn't you go to the 2020 election? Because Trump was the only guy. Nobody challenged him... 2016 was the insanity year. You know, there were 18 candidates? Yeah, it woke up the Republican Party. It woke us up. And Trump won. It was a record turnout. And so we looked at those numbers and then what I did with Dallas, it was a mathematical equation. Those numbers on a voter roll plus the exponential growth that we've had.
Other Lead Stories fact checks regarding the 2024 Iowa Caucus can be found here.
2024-01-17T02:28:35Z 2024-01-17T02:28:35ZUpdated to include reference to critics of the Iowa process.