Update: 11:30 p.m. ET: Prior accounts of some problems with the app the Iowa Democratic Party is using to collect and tabulate results appear to have been somewhat... understating the situation. It is now hours after the process of releasing caucus results was expected to begin—and instead, there’s been little beyond reports of a massive technical malfunction that appears to affect precincts across much of the state.
According to the New York Times, as of around 11:00 p.m. ET, the party said just 25 percent of the results were in. The party told NBC News that “quality control” was an issue and that it is “doing our quality control checks, making sure the numbers are accurate. People are still caucusing, we’re working to report results soon.” Multiple news outlets relayed accounts of local election officials being unable to report results via either the app or phone, or otherwise being put on lengthy hold while trying to call in.
In other words, it’s a mess that appears to extend well beyond user error, as Iowa Democratic Party officials had previously indicated. On the bright side, the use of presidential preference cards will help ensure that the results are accurately recorded.
This is a breaking news story that may be updated as more information becomes available. Gizmodo’s original coverage is below.
Original story: Monday night’s Iowa caucus results—officially marking the transition of the 2020 Democratic nomination contest from a shouting match into something closer to a knife fight—may be delayed due to last-minute issues with an app used by election officials, Bloomberg reported.
The app in question is used by workers at some 1,700 poll sites throughout Iowa to send caucus results to the state Democratic Party for counting and verification. Linn County Democratic Party chairman Bret Niles told Bloomberg that some officials appeared to be having “some issues in terms of people being able to load and connect with the app for their precinct reporting.” State party spokeswoman Mandy McClure told the news agency it was “working with any precinct chairs who want to use the optional tabulation application to make sure they are comfortable with it,” adding that “many precinct chairs prefer to call in results via a secure hotline, and [we] have systems in place so they can do so.”
According to the New York Times, state party officials have downplayed the idea that the app itself is somehow screwed up, instead pointing to “user-error problems” like bad cell phone service or officials simply requesting more information about how it actually works. Polk County party chair Sean Bagniewski told the paper that a mere 20 percent of 177 officials were able to log into the app, so he was “telling everyone to phone it in.”
The affected sites will instead need to call in to an election hotline and dictate the results, which Bloomberg reported could delay the eventual announcement of a victor by a few hours. It shouldn’t otherwise affect the outcome of the race, unlike the possible security issues fretted about by election officials as the nation increasingly relies on digital systems to manage voting. The Times separately reported this isn’t the first time apps have been involved in the Iowa caucuses, but this year the app was vetted by “both security experts and the Department of Homeland Security.” When officials at polling sites send in the data via the app, it’s checked against historical voting patterns and other data for any potential anomalies. Caucus-goers will also have to fill out a “presidential preference card” that serves as a hard record of their choice during the primary.
“We have been very diligent about doing our modeling and figuring out exactly what projected turnout could be at different levels,” state party chairman Troy Price told the Times. “So we’ll be able to see if things look wildly incongruent from what we would expect.”
While the app itself was vetted by security officials, its inner workings such as “the type of security it uses, its basic structure and even its name” were kept closely held by state party leadership, the Times wrote. University of Pennsylvania computer science professor Matt Blaze told the paper that “The idea of keeping an app—particularly one that is going to be used by thousands of people at a public event—secret is really a fool’s errand,” adding that the secrecy appeared to have done little other than prevent independent vetting of the app’s security.
It’s possible that the caucus results could also be delayed due to high turnout, which was widely expected to reach near-record numbers amid widespread outrage in party ranks at Donald Trump’s presidency, according to McClatchy DC. It’s possible that turnout could exceed the 2008 record of nearly 240,000 participants, though there was talk of revising that estimate downwards on Monday. The candidates are neck and neck, with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders leading in the Real Clear Politics average of polls at 23 percent, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden at 19.2 percent, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 16.8 percent, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren at 15.5 percent, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar at nine percent. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang (3.3 percent), billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer (three percent), Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard (1.5 percent), and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (one percent) bring up the rear.
Correction: Gabbard serves in the House, not the Senate. We regret the error.