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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

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.

Iowa Was Very Good For Mike Bloomberg

The Iowa caucuses have long been nearly useless as a measure of Americans’ preferences for the next president. This year it has been more useless than usual.

The next star of the Democratic contest will be New Hampshire, whose people are also overwhelmingly white and whose Democrats are more liberal than average. At least there, ordinary busy people will be given an entire day to cast a primary ballot in private.

Mike Bloomberg skipped Iowa, and he’ll be absent from New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. He’s putting his chips on Super Tuesday, March 3, when 14 states vote and 40 percent of the Democratic delegates are chosen. And he has an unlimited supply of chips.

This is not to say that the strange brew of circumstances in Iowa didn’t leave some tea leaves at the bottom of the cup. They did and obviously made Bloomberg smile.

Caucuses give advantage to candidates with an aggressive activist base. That would be Bernie Sanders. Yet the Vermont senator didn’t run away with it.

The results are showing moderate Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, edging out Sanders. That’s despite Buttigieg’s having entered national politics only a year ago with virtually no name recognition and Sanders’ having outspent him by at least $15 million.

Small wonder that Bloomberg announced the day after Iowa that he would double spending on a campaign whose sums were already astronomical. The multibillionaire former mayor of New York City, a moderate, is also nationally famous. And he will not be outspent. Not by any Democrat. Not by President Donald Trump.

Bloomberg can read tea leaves. And so, one assumes, did many of the estimated 2,000 people who filled Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center for a Bloomberg rally as the numbers from Iowa were still dribbling in.

Actually, the entire teapot broke in Iowa.

Here was a showcase event — that was over-reported, speculated about endlessly and enormously expensive given how little the results would reveal. Still, the state’s Democrats couldn’t put together an app capable of counting.

This just underscores the long-standing fears that Democrats are being badly outmatched by Trump’s data-mining operations. This is the ability to locate and target specific groups (non-college-educated white women, for example) and beam carefully tailored ads and social media posts in their direction. It was key to Trump’s victory in 2016.

Trump has already placed $36 million in digital ads on Google and Facebook. That’s more money than Sanders, Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have spent combined.

But when it comes to data, Bloomberg will not be outmatched. He built his financial services empire (from scratch) on collecting and delivering data. That’s where his $60 billion fortune comes from. Bloomberg clearly knows how to do data. He’s already close to surpassing Trump on Facebook and Google spending — if he hasn’t already done it.

With Manhattan Project-like urgency, Bloomberg is building his own digital-ad weapon with the wonderful name of Hawkfish. Silicon Valley hotshots are running it. And they are expected to be handed $100 million or more to cover a massive national digital ad campaign.

On Super Tuesday, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Democrats living abroad will hold their primaries. That’s a good geographic and demographic sampling of the American electorate, don’t you think? And it’s an event for which advertising will matter.

Tanya Young, a 39-year-old actor attending a Bloomberg rally in Compton, California, had this to say about Bloomberg: “He’s not a stupid man, and if he did not see a path, he wouldn’t be doing this.”

She is right. Bloomberg is not stupid.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Political Parties Don’t Count Votes As Well As Government Officials

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Here’s the takeaway from the Iowa fiasco: Beware of caucuses run by political parties. But don’t panic about the integrity of most primaries and the general election, which are run by state and county election administrators.

As Tuesday morning wore on without results from Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, the long-awaited first test of the strength of President Donald Trump’s would-be challengers, both public officials and enraged commentators stoked fears that Iowa was a harbinger of chaos for the rest of the 2020 campaign. Some said it raises alarms about the broader condition of election security and the reliability of computer systems that record, tally and publish the votes. Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale even suggested on Twitter Monday, without evidence, that the process was “rigged.”

But there’s a marked difference between the Iowa caucuses and the upcoming primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, as well as the 14 state primaries on Super Tuesday. The Iowa Democratic Party ran the caucuses, much as its counterparts in Nevada, Wyoming and several territories will do in the next few months. Party officials have less training and experience in administering the vote than do state and local election administrators who oversee most of the primaries.

Reflecting such concerns, the Democratic nominating process includes fewer caucuses this year than it did in 2016. The Democratic National Committee has called for using government-run primaries rather than party-run caucuses.

“Caucuses are run by rank amateurs. Even though we have concerns about the capacity of election officials, at least this is what they do a lot of,” said Charles Stewart, who runs MIT’s election data and science lab. “Even in the smallest of jurisdictions you run a lot of elections — you have contingency plans. The parties, bless their hearts, they don’t do this very much and that’s the bottom line.”

Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, whose office will oversee the state’s primary in April, said, “The Iowa caucus is an excellent reminder of why important elections should be run by trained, skilled and experienced state and local election administrators, not political parties.” Connecticut’s results undergo a post-election audit, and all votes there are on paper.

“Connecticut’s voters should be confident that they can trust the results of our elections,” she said.

In retrospect, Iowa’s Democratic Party made one mistake after another. It introduced a new app, widely reported to have been made by a company called Shadow Inc., without sufficient testing, training of precinct captains or transparency. At the same time, it made reporting requirements more complex, so that the 1,600 Democratic volunteers who manage individual precincts were required to provide three times as many data points as in past caucuses on a brand new app many had never been trained to use. (There were also many more candidates this year, further multiplying the amount of information to be reported.) Party officials didn’t hire enough people to take reports by phone in case the system failed. And they managed expectations poorly, assuring the public that results would be published faster than ever before.

“These are probably the most prepared we’ve ever been as a party for these caucuses,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price told CBS on Monday morning, while shrugging off concerns about the possibility of technical problems. “We’re ready.”

This is not the first time that administrative problems have plagued the Iowa caucuses. In 2012, Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the Republican caucuses shortly after 1:30 a.m. by eight votes over Rick Santorum. Two weeks later, a recount showed Santorum had actually won. And in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign declared victory after 2:30 a.m., even though official counting was not completed until that afternoon.

This year, the brand-new technology, lack of training and overconfidence by the state party amounted to a perfect storm. Government officials said they became aware of problems in the late afternoon, when precinct chairs began to report problems logging into the app. Many gave up on the app and began calling results in — as they’d done in past elections — but the reduced number of staff meant wait times so long that precinct leaders went home before they could report the results.

“Everyone was having the same problem,” said one Des Moines official who declined to be named. “Early on, it was obvious there were going to be problems.”

The receptionist at a WeWork office building in Washington, D.C., where Shadow Inc. listed its office in campaign finance filings, told a ProPublica reporter Tuesday that the company had recently moved out. Shadow CEO Gerard Niemira did not respond to a text message seeking comment Tuesday, and the voicemail box on his cellphone was full. An email to ACRONYM — an affiliated company — went unreturned.

One reason that caucus results are difficult to count is because they have multiple tallies. If a candidate doesn’t get 15% of the vote the first time, his or her supporters can switch to a rival. Delegates are apportioned by a mathematical formula. Now, the party is going through the painstaking process of verifying three datasets: the first expression of preference, the realignment and the overall delegate numbers. Verifying each number from each precinct takes several minutes, and the process must be repeated for more than 1,600 precincts. Because the Democratic Party did take the precaution of backing up counts on paper ballots, the final results should be verifiable. State party and federal officials have expressed confidence that the outcome will be accurate and trustworthy.

In a two-minute call just after 1 a.m. with the media, Price said the party was “validating every piece of data we have within that paper trail” and would “report results with full confidence.”

“We have said all along: We had backups in place for exactly this reason,” he said.

In a statement, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, said he was “glad to hear [the Iowa Democratic Party has ] a paper trail for their votes, just as we use paper ballots in all official elections in the state of Iowa.”

“I support IDP while they take their time and conduct checks and balances to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the votes,” he said.

Records show the state’s Democratic Party paid $60,000 to Shadow Inc. in two installments in November and December. The app was introduced with the intent of speeding up reporting. While local and national media began asking about the app weeks ago, the party was largely silent about its mechanics and said little about testing or training. Appearing on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday morning, Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, said that the Iowa Democratic Party had declined to allow DHS to conduct vulnerability testing on the app, though he said DHS saw no signs of malicious activity. The party has put out a statement that it has confirmed there were no intrusions and that the problems were the result of a “coding issue in the reporting system.”

The confusion in Iowa does raise concerns about the rest of 2020’s caucuses, as well as states — such as Hawaii and Alaska — where parties run primaries. The Nevada State Democratic Party, which paid Shadow Inc. $58,000 in August for “technology services,” will hold its caucuses on Feb. 22. The state party did not return a call for comment about the payment or whether it is using Shadow to report returns.

Experts said that using little-tested apps can raise the risk of security breaches because hackers could take advantage of an app’s poor computer coding. Some criticized the secrecy that shrouded the app itself.

“For critical software, I always look for documented, third-party security validation and transparency into the testing process the vendor used,” said Chris Wysopal, the chief technology officer at security firm Veracode and a prominent computer security expert. “It is a big, red flag if there is secrecy about the development process used to create and test an app.”

Election observers said one lesson of Iowa is that accuracy and clarity should be valued over speed. “It’s not about election integrity — the results will be verified with paper — it’s about satisfying our need to know immediately who won,” said David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. “When we balance out what’s more important, speed or accuracy, it’s not even a close call. We should be expecting accuracy and adjusting our expectations in regards to speed.”

Photo Credit: Phil Roeder