News & Politics

Lucky Gal: Hillary Clinton's Coin-Toss Victory in Iowa

Photo courtesy AP Images.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be the big-money candidate in the Democratic race, but in Iowa, she was the small-money candidate too — favored by six coins, tossed to determine the outcome of the Iowa caucuses.

Iowa Democrats award delegates in a peculiar fashion, which led multiple caucus locations to use a coin toss Monday night. The winner of the Iowa caucus is determined by each caucus location, not the raw number of votes cast by Democratic voters who showed up. Each precinct caucus gets a certain number of “delegate equivalents,” and those are broken up based on the percent each candidate wins at each location. A candidate has to win 15 percent of the vote in that precinct to win any delegate equivalents, so often Martin O’Malley’s support was given to Clinton or Sanders.

In the city of Ames, “a total of 484 eligible caucus attendees were initially recorded at the site,” David Schweingruber, sociology professor at Iowa State University, told the Des Moines Register. “But when each candidate’s preference group was counted, Clinton had 240 supporters, Sanders had 179 and Martin O’Malley had five.” The party resorted to a coin toss to determine the winner — and Clinton won 5 of the 8 available delegates.

Other locations ran into similar difficulties, and in each case, the results were decided by coin toss. Six coins were flipped into the air, and Clinton won each time. The odds of this outcome were 1 in 64. It is no exaggeration to say that Clinton may have won the Iowa caucus on pure luck alone — that is, if she ends up winning. Official results are still pending.

The Iowa Democratic Party has declared Clinton the winner over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, but the Associated Press has declined to call the race. Sanders has yet to concede.