The miscount of 2012 Iowa caucus results which was reported today January 19, 2012 was known the day after the caucuses ended when a precinct had misreported the results for Romney as 22 votes when in fact there had only been 2 votes. We know that some precincts never got their results in to the GOP headquarters.
We know that there is no uniform and standardized way of voting in the many, many caucuses throughout the state. These were once neighborhood political events among neighbors, and there was little media interest when this all started. The process has not yet been modernized except for security for the actual GOP data center for the event.
When you have over 1,700 reporting precincts the possibility of error is very large. In fact, in almost all elections the results are only approximations of how people voted. Every vote should count but in fact, given human and technological error, final results are almost always only approximations.
When the vote is very close - as in the Florida election for oresident in 2000 it becomes a huge issue. When the vote is squeaky close as it was in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses it becomes a big deal again. However, the Iowa caucuses are mostly a media event - no delegates are selected. It’s like a very extensive public opinion poll. Yet we give it huge significance because it is the first event.
The probability that Rick Santorum won and not Mitt Romney made no real difference because Romney was the untouchable front runner in New Hampshire already. Santorum would not have won New Hampshire even if he had been declared the winner in Iowa.
The only way the Iowa results make a difference in the history books is that Romney was declared the first non-incumbent republican to win Iowa AND New Hampshire back-to-back. Other than that it makes no difference. The Iowa caucuses still did a great job in winnowing the field and giving candidates, voters, and the news media the opportunity to scrutinize each contender.
Apparently the media did not know that this process is very informal and more like a high school class election. Now that the media has been shocked into realization that this is an informal affair Iowa will need to tighten up and formalize the process. There is no way to escape this. In 2012 you cannot have a loosy goosy election that could determine the President of the United States.