Iowa caucus primary vote counting fiasco explained


Courtesy of Wikimedia

Gabriel Rivera, Copy Chief

Feb. 3 marked the start of the 2020 Iowa Caucus and in turn millions of people across the nation eagerly watched for updates on which democratic candidate would gain a decisive edge in a competitive primary season. However, as the eventful day came to close, people were still puzzled by the lack of adequate results from the first democratic primary of the year. Nearly a week after the caucus commenced all votes were still not entirely accounted for.

The tumultuous state of the Iowa Caucus is still shrouded in mystery, as no one entirely knows why Iowa the first state to cast in votes for the presidential nominee, but also why they are one of the very few states who participate in a caucus system and not a cast-your-ballot system.

The cause of the entire debacle was discovered to be a smartphone app specifically designed to collect and record the results of the primary.

The app that was at the center of the commotion was created in November of last year by Shadow Inc., a company that has close ties with both the Iowa and Nevada Democratic Parties.

“Because of the delays in planning Iowa’s caucuses, Shadow personnel didn’t enter into a contract for the Iowa app until the fall of 2019, compressing an already tight timeline on a deal that paid relatively little — a bit more than $60,000 so far — for customized technology services,” according to The New York Times.

Regardless of the hardships Shadow faced in designing the app, it underwent several successful test runs and updates with officials from Iowa, the Democratic National Committee, and Shadow Inc. in attendance during the time leading up to the Caucus.

Hundreds of Democrats in the Polk County district of Iowa, however, began to discover issues with the vital app a week prior to voting.

“When precinct chairs reported issues, the state party referred them to a lone help-desk employee, who did not always respond to calls and emails.”

With only a few hours before the beginning of the caucus, “precinct leaders received a final email about the app with an ominous instruction: ‘If the app stalls/freezes/locks up: Close out of the app and log back in with your PIN. The app should save where you were. If it does not, please call in your results.’”

While the process of voting went composedly in nearly all precincts across Iowa, the complications arose when it was time to report the critical results.

Several precinct leaders had their app freeze while others had their app not properly process all of the data being submitted into it, said The Huffington Post.

After hours of struggling with the app, precinct leaders resorted to the emergency plan suggested to them and began to call the Iowa state party hotline number with their results, where being on hold for over five hours was a normal occurrence.

Among the thousands of precinct leaders trying to accurately report the results of their voters, the state party call centers also had to handle frantic calls from news outlets and representatives of the potential presidential candidates asking for updates.

The consequences of the failure of the smartphone app and the chaos over the phone lines that ensued are slowly becoming evident as The New York Times has reported several inaccuracies in the results that have been accounted for, claiming “at least 10 percent of precincts appeared to have improperly allocated their delegates, based on reported vote totals.

While the results of any presidential primary are incredibly vital to the national conventions for each party, the Iowa Caucus is historically known to hold a little more significance than the ones that follow.

Aside from being the first state to hold their primary, PBS notes the Iowa caucus often establishes the top candidates for each party that have the strongest opportunity to receive their party’s nomination.

Moreover, six of the last seven candidates to win the presidency since 1976 won either the Iowa caucus or the subsequent New Hampshire primary.

A major reason why a large amount of coverage has been dedicated to the chaos developing in Iowa is because of a plea for more transparency that was made four years ago by supporters of Bernie Sanders after his marginal loss to Hillary Clinton, who later went on to receive the Democratic party’s nomination.

The increase in coverage over the caucus over the years, which has become a pivotal point for presidential candidates,  left the Iowa Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee attributing the malfunction of the app and errors in voting totals to each other.

Democratic leader of Dubuque County, Iowa Steve Drazohal accused the Democratic National Committee “of hanging [Iowa] out to dry” and supported his own party’s effort, stating it “was an extremely smooth, well-organized caucus.”

While there is still an ongoing dispute between the two sides about who’s to blame, the failure of the mobile app unquestionably had a detrimental impact on the accuracy of the caucus and will likely be the reason why many will be skeptical of the final results.