By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – The sad jokes about the Iowa caucus write themselves.

Q: What do you get when you leave an Iowa caucus?
A: A sticker that reads: “I voted, but it didn’t count.”

With all due respect to the well-meaning Iowans who’ve been perpetrating it since 1976, the whole thing is an unfunny joke.  The collapse of the vote-reporting process in Iowa Monday night surprised no one who witnessed the 2012 Romney vs. Santorum debacle and the 2016 Clinton vs. Sanders nightmare that also failed to deliver timely verdicts.

Go ahead – at your next meeting at work, suggest to your colleagues that they begin making important decisions by milling around for hours in a large room, grandstanding for the media and jawboning each other to change their minds, the final decision recorded by people who can’t count and may or may not have been pre-gaming in the high school parking lot.

See how long you remain employed.

The spectacle of campaigns spending months or even years, millions of dollars, and countless hours of labor trying to win over Iowans is the saddest part of Monday night’s debacle. Somewhat less disheartening – the prospect of hotels in dingy downtown Des Moines never again being able to charge $900 a night for a room.

But what about the potential consequences for the candidates?

It’s a likely tie for hardest-hit between Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg.

Sanders had a six-point lead over Joe Biden in Monday night’s WBZ/Boston Globe/Suffolk University New Hampshire tracking poll, just outside the survey’s 4.4% margin of error. History suggests an emphatic win in Iowa could have boosted that margin. Instead, few will give much heed to the Iowa results when (if) they ever emerge. In this season of devotion to electability, New Hampshire voters who have have shied away from Biden after an Iowa flop may now be more favorably inclined toward him. And the drumbeat of uncertainty over Sanders’ electability continues undiminished by what may have been a boffo opening night performance.

And what about Pete Buttigieg, who counted on a strong Iowa showing to boost his struggling New Hampshire campaign? Where does he go to get his lost momentum back? Elizabeth Warren also must be wondering – why did I put resources into organizing a state that can’t organize a two-car funeral?

Along with Biden, Amy Klobuchar may be a beneficiary of Iowa’s app-alling performance. A lame showing in Iowa would have destroyed her “I’m-the-only-one-who-can-win-in-the-heartland” branding. Now she lives to see the bright lights of Manch Vegas, and gains brownie points for being the first candidate to realize the networks would happily carry her “victory” speech Monday night.

When the Iowa jokes fade, we will be left with some sobering lessons.

High tech can be a blessing when it works, a curse when it doesn’t. A case can be made that no important social function, like baby-sitting and caucusing, should ever be outsourced to it.

And all those states invested in fancy technology to record their upcoming votes? They’d be better off sticking with paper ballots.

Q: How do you destroy confidence in the nominating process and kill a state’s tourism industry?
A: Mix corn with gas.

Jon Keller

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