App abandoned after taking blame for delays in Iowa caucuses

The app that was supposed to help caucus officials tabulate results from the Iowa Democratic caucuses malfunctioned on caucus night, leading to delays in the reporting of results.

Mallory Tope

An app supposed to make Iowa’s caucus night run smoother instead turned the night into a malfunctioning mayhem.

On caucus night the newly designed smartphone app volunteers were set to use to collect data at each precinct malfunctioned due to “coding issues.” The Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) developed the app to help comply with new rules set by the Democratic National Committee for states using caucuses instead of primary elections.

The app that was supposed to be used at Democratic caucuses was developed by Shadow Inc. 

Shadow Inc. is a political technology company that develops mobile apps designed to register, organize and mobilize voters, according to its website.

The company was launched in December 2016 by Gerard Niemira and Krista Davis, who worked on the digital outreach team for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The IDP chose Shadow Inc. to develop an app that could be used in the 2020 caucuses. 

In late 2019, the IDP paid Shadow Inc. more than $63,000 over two installments for the IowaReporterApp that was set to be used at precincts during the caucuses, according to a campaign finance disclosure report

“We sincerely regret the delay in the reporting of the results of last night’s Iowa caucuses and the uncertainty it has caused to the candidates, their campaigns, and Democratic caucus-goers,” the company said in tweet the day after the caucuses. “We will apply the lessons learned in the future, and have already corrected the underlying technology issue. We take these issues very seriously, and are committed to improving and evolving to support the Democratic Party’s goal of modernizing its election processes.”

The company published a new version of the IowaReporterApp, two days before the caucuses.

“Two weeks before the caucuses very few [people] had received the link to download the app,” said Maddie Anderson, chair of the Story County Democrats. “The weekend before the caucus the majority still had not. So we were not able to train them on it or test it.” 

The coding malfunction was not the only issue with the app.

Volunteers had trouble even downloading the app. The app was not released through an official app store, and those with Apple devices needed to download another app first before being able to download the correct app. Those with Samsung and other smartphones had to change the device settings to be allowed to download the app. 

Many volunteers were unable to log into the app due to an “invalid” code. 

“Some caucus chairs reported that the app appeared to work while others couldn’t get logged in because it said that the pin they were given was incorrect,” Anderson said. 

Many precincts had to go to the Democratic’s Party’s “Plan B.” 

“Most of the precincts in Story County had to resort to waiting on hold to call in their results,” Anderson said. 

After the app failed in Iowa, the Nevada Democratic Party (NDP) decided to abandon the app for their own caucuses scheduled for Saturday.

The party announced they would not be using the app but instead would use Google forms to tabulate results.

The NDP is allowing early caucus voting, which began Saturday and will run until Tuesday. 

Early votes will be incorporated into the live caucus scheduled for Saturday. 

During the early voting, Nevada Democratic caucusgoers fill out a paper ballot. Voters will write their top three candidates and are allowed the option to also include their fourth and fifth candidates.

Those ballots will then be sent to voter’s local precincts through party-issued iPads. The votes will be calculated with the live caucus Saturday. 

In a statement released following the Iowa caucuses William McCurdy II, the chair of the NDP, said the party can “confidently” say what happened in Iowa will not happen in Nevada.

“We will not be employing the same app or vendor used in the Iowa caucus,” McCurdy said in a statement. “We had already developed a series of backups and redundant reporting systems, and are currently evaluating the best path forward.”