With all the commotion over the Democratic train wreck in Iowa, we didn’t want to miss announcing that President Donald Trump coasted to victory in the 2020 Iowa Republican caucuses, and quickly quashed his two lesser-known GOP rivals, on Monday night.
Trump won the Republican contest with 971 percent of the vote and all percent of precincts reporting, while former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld garnered 1.3 percent and former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh achieved 1.1 percent of voters.
The results came less than a half hour after Iowa Republicans began caucusing across the state at 7 p.m. CT.
You see, elections are extremely low-tech affairs. Voters vote, and someone else tallies up and reports the results. A caucus, which is how Iowa chooses to select the delegates who then go on to party conventions this summer to choose a candidate, are even more analog: Instead of voters voting, with a pencil and paper or a punch-card, or voting early mail-in ballots, people actually show up to a meeting and stand around, leaving the use of tools—the pencil-pushing—to someone else.
So how did things go so horribly awry last night in Iowa, where the Iowa Democratic Party chose to dispense with the “old things that work” and instead rolled out to its 1,600 precincts an untested, $70,000 app of questionable necessity that ultimately did not function—to the point that results are still not available by midday Tuesday, and only “partial results” are promised early Tuesday evening, with the candidates already moved on to New Hampshire?
The answer’s not terribly complicated. The Iowa Democratic Party trusted an app, built in secret by a politically connected company called Shadow, Inc. that did not work, and they had no backup plan. And now, other states are already ditching plans to use technology to aid the ancient democratic process and relying on paper trails—which, according to some technology experts, is what they should have been doing anyway in the face of cybersecurity threats.
State party honchos insist, first and foremost, that there was no hacking and that there was “only” “inconsistencies” in the data sets precinct chairs were supposed to report.
In a statement issued on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, Shadow said that its app’s collection of precinct-level data was “sound and accurate, but our process to transmit that caucus results data generated via the app” to the state party “was not.”
Unimpressed and fully aware of how using the app might undermine confidence in the process and thus depress turnout, the Nevada State Democratic Party, which paid Shadow $58,000, announced Tuesday that it would not be using the app.
But it wasn’t just that the Iowa Democratic Party chose to use an app that was slapped together in two months and wasn’t “property tested at a statewide scale,” as The New York Times reported. Nor was it that precinct chairs didn’t get training, nor was it just that the app wasn’t even downloaded by every precinct chair, and ultimately didn’t work when the precinct chairs did—getting stuck on various steps of the process, or seeing inconsistent numbers posted when they did get through—even though all of that is true.
It was that nothing worked.
The old method, in which precinct chairs simply phoned in their results to state party headquarters, where someone there would then slide beads along an abacus, also didn’t work. Precinct chairs reported waiting on hold upwards of an hour, or being turned away at state party headquarters after physically driving there to present results.
It’s also not entirely clear why the IDP chose Shadow to build its app—although there are some theories! Founded by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaign veterans who have also worked for the Democratic National Committee, Shadow and its apparent parent company, called ACRONYM, appear to have much more political expertise than they do programming acumen. Only a handful of the team, which was apparently headquartered in a Washington, D.C. WeWork, (Office Share) had any significant software development experience.