Tag: iowa caucuses
Trump Demands Release Of Violent Felons Convicted In Capitol Insurrection

Trump Demands Release Of Violent Felons Convicted In Capitol Insurrection

By Gram Slattery and James Oliphant

CLINTON, Iowa, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Donald Trump on Saturday downplayed his role in the siege of the U.S. Capitol on the third anniversary of the attack, arguing that those prosecuted for storming the building should be freed.

Speaking at a campaign event in Clinton, Iowa with the first Republican nominating contest little more than a week away, Trump called those jailed in the wake of the January 6, 2021 attack "hostages" and said they had been mistreated by the Biden administration.

"They've suffered enough," Trump said. "I call them hostages. Some people call them prisoners."

Speaking to more than a thousand supporters in a school gymnasium, Trump repeated his unfounded claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent and cast himself as a victim of political persecution.

"I got indicted because I challenged the crooked election," Trump told the crowd.

Trump faces a bevy of state and federal charges for his attempts to subvert the election, but has not been charged with instigating the 2021 insurrection, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol as legislators were certifying President Joe Biden's 2020 election victory.

Biden has repeatedly called Trump a threat to democracy on the campaign trail, and that messaging has emerged as an central theme of his campaign so far. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke of the January 6 assault at length during an event in South Carolina on Saturday.

At recent campaign events in Iowa, Trump's supporters -- and even supporters of other Republican presidential hopefuls -- have downplayed the significance of January 6, and many have embraced conspiracy theories regarding the events of that day.

Trump himself has suggested during previous campaign stops that undercover FBI agents played a significant role instigating the attack, an account not supported by official investigations.

More than 1,200 people have been charged with taking part in the riot, and more than 900 have either pleaded guilty or been convicted following a trial.

"It wasn't really an insurrection," said Hale Wilson, a Trump supporter from Des Moines who attended a campaign event in Newton, Iowa earlier in the day. "There were bad actors involved that got the crowd going."

At the Clinton event, Erin George, a local county commissioner, said the prison sentences handed down to the rioters "were 100 percent unwarranted."

Trump was in Iowa to curry support ahead of the state's Republican caucus on January 15, which is the first contest of the Republican presidential nominating contest. He currently leads all competitors by more than 30 percentage points in the state, according to most polls.

Reporting by Gram Slattery in Newton, Iowa and James Oliphant in Clinton, Iowa; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Miral Fahmy

Is Iowa’s ‘First Primary’ Franchise About To Expire?

Is Iowa’s ‘First Primary’ Franchise About To Expire?

The jockeying has begun over which mix of states might take part in a series of coordinated opening primaries for 2024’s Democratic nominee.

In the past half-century since the Iowa caucuses have led off the presidential nominating season, only one Democratic candidate who was not already president — a U.S. senator from the neighboring state of Illinois, Barack Obama — went on to win the White House. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden all lost in Iowa in their first bid for the presidency, even though they went on to win the nomination and the election.

The record for Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire, the nation’s first presidential primary election, isn’t much better. In the same time period, only Carter — in his first campaign for the presidency in 1976 — won the state’s primary, Democratic nomination, and White House.

These awkward facts, coupled with criticism that both states’ voters do not reflect a sufficiently diverse cross-section of the national electorate, and a technical meltdown during Iowa’s 2020 caucuses that led to its results being delayed, have led the Democratic National Committee to open its first review since 2005 to reassess which states will open the 2024 presidential nominating season.

“Our party is best when we reflect the people we are trying to serve,” DNC Chair Jaime Harrison told the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) on March 28. “I want folks to understand that this process, like all of the processes that we have gone through time and time again after each election cycle, will be open. It will be accessible. And it will incorporate the diverse perspectives that make our party strong.”

Harrison’s language, like much of the RBC meeting, was cordial, and emphasized transparency and inclusiveness. But it was clear, from the comments made by several RBC members, that Iowa’s days as the nation’s first contest, a party-run caucus, may be numbered. If the state kept an early role, it would be conducted as a party-run primary — not a party-run caucus — which, in itself, would be a major change inside the state and nationally.

More pointedly, the jockeying has begun over which mix of states might take part in a series of coordinated opening primaries on the same day in different regions of the country. While it is impossible to predict what will emerge from the RBC’s review, which it hopes to present this August, voices have suggested that Michigan, New Jersey or Wisconsin should replace Iowa, amid concurrent elections in Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

“As things stand right now, the first state to hold a delegate selection process in 2024 would be Iowa, whose 80 percent white electorate hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in a decade,” wrote Morley Winograd, a former RBC chair and top party official who oversaw the creation of the party’s opening primary schedule, in a March 25 blog at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. “The second state would be New Hampshire, which may have more of a historical and legal claim [since 1920] to be ‘first in the nation’ but whose electorate is even whiter, 90 percent, than Iowa’s… Most importantly, neither state voted for Joe Biden’s candidacy in 2020.”

Morley was welcomed at the March 28 meeting by James Roosevelt Jr., RBC co-chair, who said that the panel looked forward to hearing from him. At the meeting, Harrison announced that the RBC would be holding “three national virtual listening sessions” in coming months to gather input from the public and stakeholders. RBC members also suggested that state parties, unions, political scientists, and past and future presidential candidates should all weigh in.

But the groundwork was already being laid for reconfiguring what the RBC committee refers to as “the pre-window period,” which are the nominating contests before the numerous primaries held on the first Tuesday in March, called Super Tuesday, and the final contests in mid-June.

As Roosevelt summarized, the RBC is envisioning a process where state parties would apply and make their case for an early slot. The panel is looking at several criteria, which are priorities but not inflexible. States should commit to a primary election, not a caucus. States should also play a competitive role in the fall’s general election. And they should have a diverse electorate.

New Priorities, Led by Diversity

At the meeting, some RBC members began to press various constituencies’ cases, starting with a push for choosing early states that have a more racially diverse electorate.

“We know that we can engage more diverse groups that we need to help us win in the general election,” said Donna Brazile, a former DNC chair, presidential campaign manager and recent Fox News analyst. “It’s time for us, Mr. Chairman, to take a hard look at this.”

“We cannot be stuck in a 50-year-old calendar when we are trying to win 2022 and 2024,” said Leah Daughtry of New York. “This idea of considering the changing electorate is so important. Our country is very different than it was when we first set up the [pre-Super Tuesday] window… African Americans comprise 25 percent of rural America, and when you add [in] Latino Americans and Native Americans, rural America is nearly 40 percent people of color.”

But other members countered that the presidential campaigns prefer smaller states.

“[What] presidential candidates have always wanted from us… is that the early states be small states, and I do not see that listed in this framework,” said Carol Fowler of South Carolina. “And presidential campaigns have very good reasons for that. It has to do with cost. It has to do with a candidate who is not well known being given a benefit about campaigning in small states before they move onto larger states. I do hope that will be something that we can consider.”

“Carol’s right,” said Scott Brennan of Iowa, speaking several minutes later. “I think it would be very helpful to hear from presidential campaigns, folks like that, because, again, well, I think the touchstone is electing Democratic presidents.”

Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa, recently wrote a Washington Post opinion piece where he said the DNC was poised to bypass and disrespect rural America, and, with that, extinguish the prospect of another candidate like Obama emerging and triumphing.

“Yes, the Democratic National Committee is holding its quadrennial ritual of lashing us deplorables because, its notables believe, the two early-voting states do not represent the electorate and because politicians hate having discerning voters run the show,” he said.

“The caucuses are misunderstood—they were never meant to pick a winner,” he continued. “Their role is to winnow the field—down from 10 or 20 candidates sometimes to five or six viable campaigns going into New Hampshire. In 2020, the Democratic winner was picked by Black women turning out in droves for Joe Biden in South Carolina.”

But even South Carolina, despite Biden’s debt to that state’s Democrats, might not make the RBC’s final cut, as it hasn’t elected a Democratic presidential candidate in the fall since Jimmy Carter in 1976 and is not a battleground state. (The DNC, however, historically follows an incumbent president’s preferences.)

Nevada, despite its diversity, has other problems. The state party has internal leadership fissures after Democratic Socialists swept all the positions, prompting Nevada’s top elected Democrats to create a “shadow party.” In 2020, the state party ignored the RBC and used untested software to tally its caucus votes, causing delays in announcing the winner that were longer than Iowa’s breakdown weeks before. (Because Bernie Sanders won by a large margin, the press ignored the technical snafus.) In 2021, Nevada passed legislation making it the earliest presidential primary state in the West.

In contrast, Iowa, which has become an increasingly red-run state in recent years, has not passed legislation to replace its caucuses with a government-run primary. That means Iowa’s Democratic Party would have to stand up another entirely new voting system in 2024 — if it preserved its early role — after the high-profile failure of its new voting system in 2020.

And Winograd, who led the RBC decades ago and had a major role in shaping the party’s current schedule, apart from pushing for Michigan to replace Iowa (he was that state’s Democratic Party chair in the 1970s) also noted in his recent blog post that New Hampshire might have to change its primary rules to satisfy the committee’s new requirements.

“There is, however, one thing New Hampshire can do to assure their first in the nation status, at least for 2024,” he wrote. “To deal with the state’s lack of diversity, the party should permit only registered Democrats to vote in its primary in 2024, abandoning their tradition of allowing voters from one party to vote in the other party’s contest.”

The RBC is heading into stormy waters. The politics, voting rules, and election administration details quickly become complicated. For example, other states, such as South Carolina and Virginia, have open primaries where voters who are not registered Democrats can participate. The RBC is unlikely to pursue a rule change that would upend more states than necessary.

No matter what the RBC decides, some states will not be pleased, which raises another possibility. The earliest nominating races, while high profile, only involve a small number of the delegates needed to win the nomination. Thus, small states might ignore the DNC and proceed no matter what, even if the RBC sanctions them after the fact—as it did in 2008 when Florida and Michigan moved their primary dates. (The RBC stripped both states of half of their delegates, but restored them before the national convention.)

Meanwhile, the competition to be first only promises to become more heated.

“Why not end the early primaries with the most bitterly contested swing state in the nation — Wisconsin?” wrote the New Republic’s Walter Shapiro, a veteran political journalist who first covered the Iowa caucuses in 1980, endorsing yet another Midwestern state.

“What matters more than anything is that the Democrats retain for 2024 and beyond the most democratic aspect of running for president,” he wrote. “And that is creating a system under which candidates do not view most of America as flyover country as they race from major media market to major media market. Even in a nation of 330 million, personal campaigning should matter.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Why Nevada Could Repeat The Iowa Caucus Fiasco

Why Nevada Could Repeat The Iowa Caucus Fiasco

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

As new details emerge about what went wrong with the Iowa Democratic Party’s vote counting meltdown in its presidential caucuses, the Nevada State Democratic Party is racing to replace the app that failed in Iowa with new and untested online voting tools in its caucus on February 22—a scenario suggesting some difficulties seen in Iowa may resurface.

Meanwhile, in Iowa, where Bernie Sanders’ campaign has said it will seek a partial “re-canvass” (recount) after the IDP announced that Pete Buttigieg would probably receive 14 national convention delegates and Sanders would receive 12 delegates, the IDP has said that it will not be looking at the ballots (voter-signed presidential preference cards). Instead, the IDP will examine the summary sheets of vote totals signed by the caucus chair and campaign precinct captains, even though the New York Times has reported inaccuracies on those worksheets. That discrepancy implies that questions about the IDP’s vote counting will linger.

In other words, as party-run contests in Iowa continue and are poised to take the stage in Nevada, the riskiest, most controversial and possibly least assuring aspects of these 2020 elections are coming from decisions made by state party officials. These officials tend to be younger and more confident than skeptical of digital technology, and have sided with their vendors more than outside experts.

That state party role has not been recognized in the most detailed press reports offering explanations or more conspiratorial reports casting blame about Iowa’s meltdown. Yet top party officials in both states have resisted warnings from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) about the risks of debuting new digital voting systems. Those warnings have come from the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC), which oversees state delegate selection plans, the DNC’s technology staff, and an expert advisory board created by the DNC staff.

The RBC’s 2020 rules envisioned caucus states offering a remote participation option to voters who could not be physically present at the caucuses. But as the months progressed and the details of that system raised reliability and security concerns, the RBC reversed course. In late August, it rejected plans by Iowa and Nevada to offer voters a telephone keypad-based voting option. At the time, the RBC also warned these two states about using online voting systems.

However, Nevada and Iowa pressed ahead with retooling some of their digital voting systems, saying that these would be used by party officials and volunteers, not by voters. The states could push the edge of the envelope because the RBC has limited jurisdiction over how state party-run contests use technology.

“The Rules Committee jurisdiction has never involved counting the votes, because most of the time it is done by state law” affecting government-run party primaries, said Elaine Kamarck, an RBC member from Massachusetts and presidential scholar who said the panel’s main job is overseeing state plans to allocate delegates to the Democratic National Convention. “It never occurred to us to get into the business of [overseeing] vote counting.”

Thus, tech-friendly state party officials, more so in Nevada than Iowa, had a loophole of sorts and pressed on. The fact that state parties, not the DNC, pay for their presidential caucuses strengthened their resolve. So, too, did the months that they had spent developing the telephone voting option (before the RBC killed it).

As reported in most detail in the Nevada Independent, Nevada now plans to give every precinct caucus chair a party-programmed iPad that will import the results from four days of early voting (at the start of each precinct caucus), calculate the candidate rankings in two rounds of voting, and electronically file the results. (Iowa’s app failed to transmit these local results and to compile state totals.)

After the Iowa meltdown, Nevada State Democratic Party chairman William McCurdy II said in a statement, “We will not be employing the same app or vendor used in the Iowa caucus.” The Nevada Independent spoke to caucus chairs being trained in the newest system only days before it will debut. Those volunteers said that the party was describing the use of an iPad as not the same as an app.

“In the [training] video, a party staffer tells volunteers that the new mechanism ‘is not an app’ but should be thought of as ‘a tool,’” the Independent reported. “Asked by a volunteer how results would be transmitted from one place to another, the staffer demurred. ‘Those are all excellent questions, and we’re still working out some of the details around those so I’ll make sure that everyone has more information as we’re able to share it,’ she said.”

Late on Monday, February 10, four days before early voting is set to begin, the Nevada state party updated campaigns about their latest plans, according to the Independent. The party will be using party-provided iPads to check in voters using preloaded county voter rolls (as PDF files). Voters will fill out a paper presidential preference card, but also enter their information on the iPad as a Google form “which will be accessed through a URL,” the Independent reported, citing a party memo. Thus a paper and electronic record of their vote will be created.

The system is reliant on caucus chairs accessing Wi-Fi in 80 early voting sites across the state. It was not clear from the Independent’s report what elements of this system would be used or modified for use in hundreds of precinct caucuses on February 22. In Iowa’s precinct caucuses, getting online was an issue for several campaigns using sophisticated turnout-tracking apps, because attendees in those locations were widely using their phones and competing for the bandwidth.

The Nevada party was still recruiting precinct chairs for those caucuses, according to people with ties to Joe Biden’s campaign in New Hampshire. That update suggests that there may be issues with using an unfamiliar system while running the event.

Nevada party officials have not responded to Voting Booth’s request to comment.

Whether the DNC Rules Committee can step in and order Nevada to fine-tune the vote counting technology to be used—as it affects how 2020 national convention delegates are allocated—is an open question. Meanwhile, party officials from other states with government-run presidential primaries are watching and are frustrated.

“Just use paper ballots, count them by hand, and call in the results,” said an exasperated state vice-chair (a baby boomer) who said that she was friends with McCurdy, but was angry with her younger “techie” peers. (Those comments came before the latest details about Nevada’s early voting system were released.) The Iowa meltdown reminded her of the Obama White House’s rollout of the Obamacare website, where young staffers overlooked what could go wrong when a system debuts.

Not a Stop-Bernie Conspiracy

Iowa’s meltdown and Nevada’s continuing pursuit of untested digital voting tools are not, however, a stop-Bernie conspiracy by the DNC.

That allegation came from some progressives after the IDP app frustrated precinct chairs (many could not log in) and system software failed to tally results. Nor was it intentional sabotage because the CEO of the firm (ACRONYM) that funded the app’s developer (Shadow) is married to a Buttigieg consultant, nor because of meddling by Buttigieg’s wealthy donors, as others alleged.

“The DNC was doing what Bernie wanted. They were not trying to get rid of him,” said the state party vice-chair. “Accusing [DNC Chairman] Tom Perez of trying to get rid of Bernie Sanders is ridiculous. He has been trying to appease Bernie since the beginning.”

Those remarks refer to the DNC’s post-2016 effort to heal the divisions between centrists who supported Hillary Clinton and progressives who backed Sanders. The DNC’s Unity Reform Commission recommended, and the full DNC adopted, many of Sanders’ demands. The most high-profile was that so-called superdelegates (mostly elected officials who comprise one-sixth of the national convention delegates) will not get to vote on the first ballot—to elevate voters over party leaders.

Another Sanders demand, which is relevant for what is unfolding in 2020’s party-run caucus and primary states, is greater transparency in releasing the vote counts. In 2016, the IDP simply announced the delegate equivalents to their state convention without any further evidence. At 2:30 a.m. on the morning after 2016’s caucuses, the party chair announced that Clinton had won 699.57 “state delegate equivalents” while Sanders had won 695.49 equivalents.

Looking at 2020, the DNC and caucus state parties agreed to release the number of participants, results from two rounds of voting, and delegate allocations. That new transparency, in part, led Iowa and Nevada party officials to look to digital tools to accelerate more intricate reporting and statewide tallies.

Throughout 2019, party officials told the RBC that they were on track with their new voting systems, even though there was no finished product for the DNC’s technology staff to review until well into the fall. When cybersecurity exercises were finally held, they were done in academic settings—not in a real election with more voting-system stresses and unexpected snafus.

In other words, these state party officials were overly reliant on their contractors, some of whom had roles in Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns, and some of who had connections in Silicon Valley, who were overpromising. That mistake is a rookie error in the world of election administration. And given the existing climate of paranoia and mistrust, it increases the odds that mishaps will undermine public faith in elections and the democratic process.

“Vendors promise you the world. They say, ‘Just try it.’ That doesn’t work with [career] election officials,” said John Lindback, the former state election director in Alaska and Oregon, who was worried about all of 2020’s party-run presidential nominating contests—continuing with Nevada and several other states.

“They’re setting themselves up for some issues,” he said.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Inside The Iowa Democratic Party’s ‘Boiler Room’ Meltdown

Inside The Iowa Democratic Party’s ‘Boiler Room’ Meltdown

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The app and software that failed to report and count the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential caucus results were not the only miscalculation by the IDP and its vendor.

Its “boiler room” or secret operations center was unprepared to handle the chaos that ensued. Fewer than 100 computers and phones were set up for IDP volunteers to receive the results and complaints. IDP help desk materials anticipated problems with the app, including that some caucus chairs would end up calling in their results. The IDP’s instructions were complex, but they were also lacking some basics, according to experts in voting technology systems.

“In general, there is no documentation of what to do if various other problems arise,” said David Jefferson, a voting systems software expert who has studied and critiqued electronic election infrastructure since the 1990s. He is an executive board member of Verified Voting, a national advocacy group founded by computer scientists and academics.

“The universal answer seems to be, ‘If you have a problem, call in your results,’” he continued. “That might make sense if the app and the server were so robust that there were almost never any problems, and if the training of the caucus chairs was thorough so that they were all confident that they knew how to handle it. But apparently that was not the case.”

New revelations about the IDP “boiler room” offer important lessons. Nevada’s 2020 Democratic Party presidential caucus starts with early voting on Saturday, February 15. Its party officials have ditched their plans to use the same reporting app and system that failed in Iowa’s 2020 presidential caucus. While the Nevada Democratic Party has said that it might use paper-based voting in precinct caucuses, it has not released further specifics.

Meanwhile, DNC Chairman Tom Perez has called on Iowa’s state party to recount its results amid complaints from campaigns—a process that the IDP’s 2020 rules only anticipated if a campaign filed a formal request and paid for it upfront.

(On Thursday, Bloomberg.com reported that Donald Trump’s supporters apparently “flooded a hotline used by Iowa precinct chairs” after finding its number online. This was a development that nobody in state or national party circles overseeing the caucuses had voiced beforehand. Instead, they had focused on more complex cybersecurity threats.)

Inside IDP’s Boiler Room

The vote counting and help desk operations center was tucked into two conference rooms in the mezzanine above Veterans Memorial Hall at the Iowa Events Center—the opposite end of the same complex where a media filing center hosted TV networks whose analysts spent hours Monday night trashing the IDP for failing to release the caucus results. As the night unfolded, the party announced that irregularities in the counting, software glitches and jammed phones all collided and pushed the IDP to abandon using its results-reporting app and switch to compiling results from paper summary sheets from nearly 1,700 precincts.

I found the boiler room on Wednesday. While IDP officials were continuing to compile results in one room, this reporter saw the other room. It was empty but still set up as an operations center. It had computers, phones, routers; training materials on desks, help desk scripts and forms for taking caucus results and other complaints; an “app FAQ” sheet for caucus chairs who experienced problems and other instructions on wall posters.

The training materials were for a session that occurred on Sunday—one day before the 2020 caucus. An agenda said it included a “brief description of the caucus night set up,” “boiler room set up” work shifts, rules in the room, phone security and questions. Voting Booth took photos and shared them with Verified Voting’s Jefferson for context.

Jefferson concluded that the boiler room had less than half the staff that it needed at peak hours to field calls; that its FAQ and other help desk materials omitted key information—even as it anticipated that caucus chairs would encounter problems logging in and using passwords. He also noted what appeared to be additional missing elements that added to the congestion and reporting meltdown, such as the app not saying that results had been successfully received, which prompted caucus chairs to call in to confirm that they had been received—further clogging the phone lines.

The operations center was a windowless rectangular room filled with a half-dozen rows of long desks covered in black tablecloth. On each desk sat two or three laptop computers and a phone, all hardwired by Ethernet cables to a server in the room. The front desks had piles of a “2020 Precinct Caucus Guide” that summarized procedures, piles of forms to report results and other problems, and red and blue folders with these documents and others—such as app FAQs and phone scripts.

The front-facing wall had hand-lettered posters. One said, “NO photos can be taken in this room!!! NO social media usage allowed at all!!!!” There also were reminders for volunteers “to confirm [precinct] ID,” to tell caucus chairs where to find a “Precinct PIN” in their materials (to be able to log in using the app), and an email address where the chairs were to send photos of the “caucus math worksheets.” That last document had the key results from two rounds of caucus voting in each of Iowa’s 1,678 precincts. It was what the party scrambled to collect to verify and redo the statewide count, after finding tabulation errors from the app and data-entry mistakes by boiler room volunteers (as reported by the New York Times).

Together, if both conference rooms were similarly equipped (this reporter was escorted out when approaching the second room), that meant there were fewer than 100 computer stations ready to receive precinct results and handle complaints. All calls came in via the same telephone number. Once a caucus chair with results got through, IDP volunteers were told to fill out a form “completely… [and] confirm each number by reading it back to the precinct leader.” If the call was reporting something else, labeled “general public issues” or “temp chair issues,” volunteers took briefer notes and were told to “tell the caller [that] they will be called back ASAP.”

The party knew the app would be problematic. Their materials listed at least 10 different problems with the reporting app, including: “Can’t Sign In,” “Wrong Pin,” “Password,” “2 Factor Authentication,” “Error Message,” “Calculation Issues,” “Screen is Frozen,” “Can’t Take a Picture” and “Satellite Caucus Reporting [from outside the state].”

The “App FAQ” anticipated more specific problems, such as caucus chairs not finding their precinct IDs or PIN numbers to log in, and PIN numbers not working. The FAQ said there were two different PINs that the chairs had to use, one to identify the precinct and another to report the results. If they cannot get into the system’s backend with the PINs, the FAQ said, “They’ll need to close out of the app and restart the login process.”

It described additional steps “if they’re on a two-factor authentication screen.” If they could not log in, it said, “If for some reason they’re not receiving the code via text after a couple of tries, they should call in their results.”

The FAQ also said the caucus chairs could not go backward through the screens if any error was made. “Once they move on from a screen, they cannot go back to a previous screen and they cannot restart the caucus as they could in the test mode,” it said. “Every screen will ask them to confirm their numbers before moving on. If they made an error on any step, they should call in their results.” (Emphasis in original.)

A Complex Process Without Snafus

Verified Voting’s Jefferson called the app and these details “a human interface disaster.”

“One thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the discussion under ‘Can I go back while reporting in the app?’ It says that no, you cannot go back to previous screens when using the app. It says, ‘If they’ve made an error on any step, they should call in their results,’” he said. “There is no recovery from error! No ‘undo.’ No ‘go back.’ They cannot even start over and ‘restart the caucus.’”

“This, of course, is a human interface disaster,” he said. “It is hard to fathom how anyone could design and field such a rigid, fragile app, [so] unforgiving, and expect hundreds of people who have never used the app before to be successful at it. This feature alone would likely cause most of the caucus chairs to call in their results instead of using the app, adding to frustration and phone-in volume. This alone should have caused the IDP to completely reject the app.”

Jefferson also said that the FAQ omitted basics, such as including different answers for people using Apple and Android operating systems. It did not mention how caucus chairs were to download the app, which would be different on Apple and Android phones.

But the larger point was the IDP was understaffed to handle the breakdown that ensued when it had to shift from an app-based reporting system that it knew was problematic.

Jefferson, doing rough calculations, said that at best, each call should have taken 5 minutes. Of course, once the apps started failing and the calls cascaded (apart from any interference intentionally clogging lines from Trump supporters), the volume went up quickly and a backlog developed that lasted as long as 90 minutes.

Under the best of circumstances, it would have taken five or six hours to efficiently handle the telephone reporting, he said, noting that the volume of information collected in 2020 was much more than in past years. The IDP was seeking to be more transparent. It was collecting and planned to announce four figures for every caucus: the participant numbers, first alignment results, realignment results and delegates awarded.

Jefferson suggested that the IDP had half as many help desk stations as it needed. But the IDP never expected that it would have to abandon its app and software backend. On the Friday before Monday’s caucus, IDP Executive Director Kevin Geiken was upbeat about the system. When pressed by this reporter about the “worst-case scenario,” he said that it would take one-to-two days to count the paper “caucus math worksheets” submitted in person or by emailed photos from across the state.

The IDP has not responded to my inquiries since Monday’s caucus.

Up Next: Nevada’s Caucuses

In response to the Iowa meltdown, Nevada State Democratic Party officials have said that they were abandoning the use of two different apps from the same vendor that failed in Iowa, and were looking at reverting to a paper-based voting and counting process. The NDP did not respond to Voting Booth’s inquiries about its likely shift to paper, which would begin with early voting that starts on February 15.

The party had planned to use 1,000 party-owned digital tablets for those participants to vote online, according to the Nevada Independent. It had also planned on using the same app as in Iowa to send its early voting results to its caucus chairs at 250 sites at the start of the regularly scheduled caucus process on February 22, and to transmit the results once the caucuses were finished.

The Nevada Democratic Party, like that of Iowa, intended to have every caucus participant fill out a paper presidential preference card, and for caucus chairs to compile results summary sheets that every candidate’s precinct captain would sign to affirm the results. But the system to file those results, and then compile and report statewide totals, is yet to be seen.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.