Tech problem with mobile app caused Iowa caucus delay
By ALEXANDRA JAFFE and CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A new mobile app was supposed to help Democratic officials quickly gather information from some 1,700 caucus sites throughout Iowa. Instead, a “coding issue” within the app is being blamed for delays that left the results unknown the morning after the first-in-the nation presidential nominating contest.
The company that contracted with Iowa Democrats to build the app accepted responsibility but said the underlying data it collected was “sound and accurate.”
Glitches with the app caused confusion Monday. Some caucus organizers were forced to call in results for the state party to record manually, introducing delays and the possibility of human error. Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said the delays were not the result of a breach.
“While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data. We have determined that this was due to a coding issue in the reporting system,” Price said in a statement Tuesday. “The application’s reporting issue did not impact the ability of precinct chairs to report data accurately.
The issue has since been fixed, and the party expects to release unofficial results later Tuesday after manually verifying its data against paper backups. Unlike the November election and state primaries administered by state and local election officials, the Iowa caucus was administered by the Iowa Democratic Party.
The company that developed the app, Shadow Inc., said in a series of tweets Tuesday that it regretted the delay in the reporting of results and that it has corrected the technology problems. It said the process for collecting the underlying data was sound but the process for transmitting it to the state Democratic Party was not.
“Importantly, this issue did not affect the underlying caucus results data. We worked as quickly as possible overnight to resolve this issue, and the IDP has worked diligently to verify results,” the company tweeted.
States with upcoming elections took note of the problems in Iowa. The Nevada Democratic Party said Tuesday it would not be employing the same app or vendor used in the Iowa caucuses.
The Department of Homeland Security said there are no signs of “malicious cyberactivity.” DHS Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News on Tuesday that Iowa Democrats declined his department’s offer to test the reporting app. That’s not unusual, as outside security firms do similar testing. The state party had said previously it had worked with security experts to test the app.
The state Democratic Party was sending volunteers and staffers across the state Tuesday to retrieve hard-copy results of the caucuses so they can check them against results reported from precincts via the party’s app and over the phone, according to multiple sources working for the party on crunching numbers and granted anonymity to discuss sensitive party information.
The problems were an embarrassment for a state that has long sought to protect its prized status as the first contest in presidential primaries and the nation’s first vetter of candidates. The delay was certain to become fodder for critics who argued that the caucuses — party meetings that can be chaotic, crowded and messy — are antiquated and exclusionary.
The Iowa Democratic Party pressed forward with the new reporting system amid warnings about the possibility of hacking and glitches. Party officials said they took numerous security precautions and maintained that any errors would be easily correctable because of backups and a paper trail.
But organizers running precincts in Iowa didn’t get to test the app beforehand. Iowa party officials had said they would not be sending the new mobile app to precinct chairs for downloading until just before the caucuses to narrow the window for any interference.
Some precinct chairs said they had trouble downloading or logging into the app and didn’t use it.
Jonathan Green, who chaired a precinct in Lone Tree, said that when he tried to put the results into the reporting app, he kept getting a confusing error message: “Unknown protocol. The address specifies a protocol (e.g., “wxyz:??“.) the browser does not recognize, so the browser cannot properly connect to the site.”
He said he ultimately gave up and tried to call in the results to the party. Like others, he was put on hold for an extended period of time. In the end, it took hours to report results from his small site, he said.
The slowdown was exacerbated by the fact that the party was for the first time attempting to report three different sets of data — an initial headcount of each candidates’ support, a count after supporters had realigned, and the state delegate winners.
“We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” the party said in a statement. “This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.”
As scrutiny turned to upcoming elections in other states, Nevada Democratic Party Chairman William McCurdy II said his state would not repeat the same problems and that the same app and vendor would not be used.
“We had already developed a series of backups and redundant reporting systems, and are currently evaluating the best path forward,” McCurdy said in a statement, without mentioning Shadow by name.
Nevada Democrats did not respond to a follow-up message asking if the party had already planned to use a different app and vendor or if that was a change made in the wake of Iowa’s technical problems.
Richard L. Hasen, an election expert at University of California, Irvine School of Law, cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the election’s integrity, saying most problems are “the result of administrative incompetence rather than someone cheating or some outside interference,” Hasen said.
Ruth Thompson, who chaired a precinct at a Des Moines high school, said she did not use the app to report results because organizers had problems trying to download and test it.
“We just came to a consensus that nobody was happy with the app,” she said. She also did not try to report her site’s results over the phone after hearing reports of long delays in answering the line at state headquarters, she said.
Instead, veteran caucusgoers at her site used calculators to compute the delegate allocation and then texted a photo of the results to Polk County Democratic Party officials, who drove it to state party headquarters.
Associated Press writers David Pitt and Scott McFetridge in Des Moines, Ryan J. Foley in Iowa City, Michelle Price in Las Vegas, Frank Bajak in Boston and Eric Tucker and Brian Slodysko in Washington contributed to this report.
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