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Iowa Caucuses Hobbled by Defective Tech

The first primary battle of the year shows why making things more complicated doesn't always make them better.
Photo by Kelcy Gatson

The Iowa Caucuses Monday were plagued with tech issues, resulting in a delay in results that may cost the primary race its coveted spot as the kickoff to the Presidential election season.

The troubles began over the weekend when a supporter of former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg complained to the campaign that his name was left off the Des Moines Register’s final phone poll when the list of names was read off by the operator. It was later determined that the operator had increased the font size on their computer, which caused the name at the end of the list – which is randomized on each call – to disappear from the screen, according to poll partner CNN.

A source familiar with the decision said that a respondent reported that an operator, during a telephone interview, did not name former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg when listing the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. The source added that it was determined a single terminal at a call center had its font changed, which cut off the last line of a randomized list of names. It’s unclear whether the issue occurred more than once or impacted other candidates.


The poll results ended up being scrapped entirely.

But things only got worse on Monday during the caucus itself, as a custom app used by the Democratic Party to record and report results failed under load.

So far, much of the attention has focused on the app that Iowa Democrats were using to report their results. According to a statement by the Iowa Democratic Party on Tuesday morning, the app ended up reporting faulty data to the central headquarters, requiring a ground-up audit of the system to ensure the accuracy of the results.

“While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data,” the party said in a statement. “We have determined that this was due to a coding issue in the reporting system. This issue was identified and fixed.”

The Verge

The New York Times reports that many caucus volunteers mistook the app for phone malware, had difficulty with installation, could not log in, or simply chose to ignore the app and phone in results as they always have. This resulted in hold times of several hours on the reporting hotline, with some users being disconnected before they could deliver their results.

The caucus results have been delayed and at the time of this writing have still not been announced. Buttigieg is already claiming victory while GOP officials are claiming the caucus was rigged:

For an electoral process that has already been plagued with claims of fraud, mishandling and foreign interference, this could not have come at a worse time. The state legislature of West Virginia passed a bill last week to allow persons with disabilities to vote via smartphone, which the governor is expected to sign. The legislation is going through despite objections from infosec experts as well as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who successfully lobbied to have similar plans shelved in neighboring Virginia over security concerns.

Kenny Hitt

Kenny Hitt

Kenny Hitt (@gulchcastkenny) is an Associated Press Award-Winning videographer, photographer and graphic designer, with his work having been featured by NBC, Image Comics and Scholastic Publishing. He has had a lifelong fascination with science & technology, especially in the entertainment & communications arena.
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